The blacklist: Vietnam names and shames projects with high pollution risks

By Toan Dao, Ha Phuong   October 21, 2016 | 11:53 am GMT+7
The blacklist: Vietnam names and shames projects with high pollution risks
Workers clear mud at Mong Duong coal mine after a flood in the province of Quang Ninh, Vietnam in August 2015. The Ministry of Industry and Trade has announced projects which it considers are potentially risky to the environment, nearly half of them coal-fired power plants. Photo by AFP

Coal-fired power plants, owned by state-run enterprises, account for nearly half of the listed projects.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade has announced projects which it considers are potentially risky to the environment.

In a statement released on Thursday, the ministry listed 28 plants which need “special monitoring”, with nearly half of them being coal-fired power projects invested by state power utility Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) and national oil and gas group PetroVietnam.

One of the plants in the list, the 1,200-MW Vinh Tan 2 in the central province of Binh Thuan, grabbed headlines last year due to the environmental pollution it caused. In April 2015, thousands of local people had blockaded National Highway No 1A for many hours to complain to authorities about coal dust and cinder from the power plant.

According to a United Nations Development Program report, Vinh Tan 2 is producing 4,400 tons of waste per day, causing widespread dust pollution in fields, settlements and homes, since the first of two units of Vinh Tan 2 were put into operations in January 2014.

Air pollution from coal-fired power plants at a national scale is also rising significantly.

If all coal-fired power plants proposed under the government’s masterplan for power development were to be built by 2030, premature deaths caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants in Vietnam would raise from an estimated 4,263 in 2011 to 25,402 in 2030, according to the UNDP report.

Notably, the $9-billion Nghi Son refining and petrochemical complex in the central province of Thanh Hoa, invested by PetroVietnam and other foreign investors, was also put in the list.

Nghi Son Refinery and Petrochemical (NSRP), the operator of the project, had on June 9 used chemical substances and saltwater to clean its 35 km-long oil pipeline and directly discharged this mixture into the sea. It only stopped the illegal discharge on June 11 following a request from Thanh Hoa Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the Voice of Vietnam reported in September.

Authorities in early September took seawater samples near the pipeline for analysis after tens of tons of farmed fish were found dead in the region.

Separately, two alumina refineries in Lam Dong and Dak Nong Central Highland provinces invested by state-owned Vinacomin were on the list, too.

Workers at the Nhan Co alumina plant in Dak Nong in July discovered a broken pipeline containing the corrosive chemical sodium hydroxide.

Some 9.6 cubic meters of sodium hydroxide has leaked from the plant, posing serious environmental threats to nearby residents.

Authorities at all levels in the ministry and management at the state-run enterprises are requested to take practical measures to help closely monitor the projects to make sure they do not do harm to the environment. Companies are also asked to consider abandoning the projects which apply technologies that are potentially risky to the environment, the ministry said.

Environment has become a hot issue in Vietnam as the Vietnam unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group earlier this year discharged toxic chemicals from its steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh into the sea, killing marine life and poisoning fish in the four central provinces.

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

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