Ministry warns of health risks from Hanoi light bulb warehouse fire

By Gia Chinh   August 30, 2019 | 09:58 pm PT
Ministry warns of health risks from Hanoi light bulb warehouse fire
What's left of a light bulb warehouse of Rang Dong Light Source and Vacuum Flask JSC in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi after a fire on August 28, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
The environment ministry has asked residents not to use food and water near a Hanoi light bulb warehouse fire Wednesday, although initial tests guaranteed safety.

Those living in the vicinity of the burned warehouse should be careful and closely follow personal hygiene measures advised by healthcare officials, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources said in a statement Saturday.

The warning came despite tests by Hanoi's Department of Natural Resources and Environment saying Friday that tests on the water, air and soil around the warehouse came up with nothing unusual.

The ministry insisted: "The accident still poses potential risks that might affect the environment and people's health."

Locals should clean walls, floors and furniture in their houses and avoid using water from open tanks. They should also stop consuming food originating in the area where the accident took place until the authorities officially announce the reach of the debris caused by the fire, it said.

On Wednesday, a five-hour blaze that started at 6 p.m. destroyed a third of the inventory at a 6,000-square-meter warehouse belonging to the Rang Dong Light Source and Vacuum Flask Joint Stock Company in Thanh Xuan District. The inventory included light bulbs.

The ministry said that after making a list of products, goods and materials damaged in the fire, experts and scientists will calculate the amount and reach of pollution from fluorescent and compact lamps to assess the pollution level and the scope of polluted area, if any.

The ministry also said it will closely work with Hanoi’s administration to handle the aftermath of the fire and consult with international institutions on coping with the situation.

On Thursday, the Ha Dinh Ward People’s Committee withdrew a food and water contamination risk warning just one day after issuing it.

The ward authorities explained that the warning had been issued "without rightful authorization" and there was "insufficient evidence to support it."

The warehouse is located in Thanh Xuan Trung Ward next to Ha Dinh Ward.

An environment official wears a face mask as he visits the burned Rang Dong light bulb warehouse in Hanoi, August 31, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh.

An environment official wears a face mask as he visits the burned Rang Dong light bulb warehouse in Hanoi, August 31, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh.

Inconsistent annoucements

Thanh Xuan District authorities said Friday that initial tests by the Institute of Occupational Health and the Environment from the Ministry of Health showed that the lead, mercury and heavy metal levels in the area were within safe limits.

But on Friday night, leaders from the institute said they have not issued any results on mercury tests.

On Saturday morning, Vuong Thi Van Khanh, chief of staff of the Thanh Xuan District People’s Committee, said: "The institute provided the district test results at a public meeting, in which all statements have been recorded. The institute should be responsible for the information it provides."

The inconsistencies have confused residents near the accident site and made them anxious.

Phan Long, who lives next door to the burned warehouse, expressed concern over the authorities changing their warnings several times.

"The ward [Ha Dinh] issued one warning and then withdrew it, and now comes the warning from the ministry, I don’t know what to believe. Who knows if the water around me is now safe or not?"

Van Hung, who lives in an apartment complex 700 meters from the fire, said he was "confused and could not decide if he should evacuate his family of four from the area."

For now, he and his wife have decided to stay, hoping that as they are living on the 18th floor of the building, the impact would not be signficant.

Hung said he had no idea about the initial warning from Ha Dinh Ward, as well as the fact that it had already been withdrawn.

"The authorities have responded slowly to the situation and failed to inform local residents of what precautionary measures to take," he said.

Rang Dong, listed on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange, is a leading Vietnamese manufacturer of lighting products and equipment, electrical appliances and materials, glass products, and vacuum flasks.

The company said in a statement on Friday that their products were made of materials that would not cause danger to people when burned.

It estimated a loss at VN150 billion ($6.4 million) from the fire.

The police are still investigating the fire and are yet to ascertain its cause.

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