Hanoi water utility sacks top exec after oil contamination scandal

By Minh Son   November 6, 2019 | 02:05 am PT
Hanoi water utility sacks top exec after oil contamination scandal
Nguyen Van Ton, then General Director of Viwasupco, speaks at a conference in Hanoi, October 14, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Hai.
A month after it supplied contaminated water to Hanoi residents, Viwasupco has sacked its general director Nguyen Van Ton.

The board of directors of Vinaconex Water Supply Joint Stock Company approved the dismissal Monday with immediate effect. In addition to losing the top post, Ton is no longer the company's legal representative. He still retains his position as a board member.

Ton, 49, has a degree in construction engineering specializing in water supply and drainage, as well as a master's degree in business administration.

He served as director of Vinaconex's Dung Quat Water Plant from June 2006 to October 2008 before moving to Viwasupco, where he was voted to the board of directors and appointed general director in 2009.

As the official responsible for Viwasupco's operations, Ton was the company's representative at its first press conference regarding the incident in which used oil was dumped into Viwasupco's water source, contaminating the tap water the company supplies to Hanoi residents.

At the press conference on October 14, Ton asserted that upon detecting the contamination, the company had immediately cleaned it up and that the contaminated water's quality was within safety standards, despite Hanoi authorities repeatedly warning residents not to use the water for consumption.

When questioned as to why the company did not cut the water supply immediately upon discovering the contamination, Ton said "80 percent of me wanted to cut the water supply but I was concerned about the issue of criticism."

Furthermore, daily test results of the water's quality still met safety standards, he claimed.

The board has appointed Nguyen Xuan Quy as the company's new general director and legal representative.

The scandal

On October 8, a 2.5 ton tanker dumped used oil into a creek in Hoa Binh Province that feeds into the Da River, which is Viwasupco's water source.

Two days later, residents in the southwest of Hanoi detected an unpleasant, pungent odor in their tap water. Tests of the smelly water by authorities later found that the level of styrene, an organic compound that is probably carcinogenic, was 1.3-3.6 times higher than normal.

Hanoi authorities then warned residents that they should not use the water for drinking or cooking, only for other purposes like washing clothes and bathing.

It was found out later that Viwasupco had been aware of the contamination, but chose to continue its water supply anyway.

Worse still, the company responded to residents' complaints about the smell saying it was probably the extra chlorine used to neutralize pollution. An official even said that whether or not the water was smelly was a subjective thing that depended on the individual.

In a press conference on October 17, Viwasupo representatives said that it was the "biggest victim" in the incident. The company eventually issued an apology on October 25, after 17 days of playing the victim.

Police in Hoa Binh Province, where the contaminated creek and Da River section flows through, have arrested three suspects for dumping the used oil.

They are continuing investigations into the responsibilities of all possible parties involved in the incident.

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