Health warning for fish from central Vietnam adds to uncertainty after toxic spill

By VnExpress   September 19, 2016 | 09:13 pm PT
Health warning for fish from central Vietnam adds to uncertainty after toxic spill
It is now safe to eat fish at aquatic farms and in the mid-water, according to the Health Ministry. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao
Officials continue to ask consumers to avoid certain seafood products. 

The public has been warned again to avoid seafood caught from the seabed along the central coast, months after a toxic spill linked to Taiwanese company Formosa first caused mass fish deaths in the region.

In its latest report, the Ministry of Health said that only fish in the mid-water or those caught very far from the shore are considered safe.

The ministry, supported by a team of experts and scientists, has analyzed over 1,000 samples of seafood taken at aquatic farms and in waters off the central region on a daily basis.

New results supported its earlier findings, that toxic chemicals, including cyanide, have been diluted. It is now safe to eat fish from aquatic farms, the report concluded.

However, the health ministry warned the public against eating marine creatures that live at the seafloor and within 13.5 nautical miles off the coast of the four affected provinces -- Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.

Health officials also strongly advised against eating fish caught within 20 nautical miles.

Many people have written to VnExpress, saying the warning does not clear anything up. Some say they still have no way of telling for sure which seafood products available in the market are caught from which areas and whether they are safe.

“How can consumers know if the fish on sale at a wet market were caught within or beyond 13 nautical miles, in mid-waters or near the surface?” a reader nicknamed Binhnx wrote.

Nguyen Tac, another reader, said supermarkets and fishmongers may need to start putting up signs to tell consumers where their products came from.

“Goodbye seafood. Goodbye,” another short comment read.

Previously Vietnamese food safety authorities urged consumers to wait for a more detailed report by the health ministry before eating fish in the affected areas.

Even though the government may have managed to mitigate the consequences by bringing down the concentration of harmful chemicals in the waters to acceptable levels, that doesn’t mean it is already safe to eat fish, said Nguyen Thanh Phong, the director of the ministry's Food Safety Department.

The senior food safety official added that residues of toxic substances can still be found in the seafood after a long time.

The Vietnamese government announced on June 30 that the Vietnam unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group was responsible for discharging toxic chemicals from its steel plant into the ocean, killing marine life and poisoning fish in the four central provinces.

Nearly three months after the announcement, Tran Hong Ha, the environment minister, said that it was safe to swim in the affected provinces and that fish farming could resume in most areas.

The environment minister’s announcement was supported by a team of Vietnamese and foreign scientists who said that sea waters generally met safety standards for aquaculture farming, fishing, and tourism activities.

The steel plant took responsibility for the disaster in June and pledged to pay $500 million to clean up the pollution and compensate those affected.

The mass fish deaths have ravaged local fisheries, disrupted people’s lives and hit tourism in the four provinces.

The government said in a report in July that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.

An estimated 115 tons of fish washed ashore along more than 200 kilometers of the central coast in April, the report said.

Formosa Plastics’ $10.6 billion steel complex in Ha Tinh province includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port.

Related News:

Formosa's toxic disaster: are fish safe to eat now in central Vietnam?

Don't eat fish caught off Vietnam's central coast: health authorities

Formosa pays Vietnam first $250 mln fish death compensation

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