Vietnam's kingdom of coal wants to use mining waste in construction projects

By Gia Chinh, Minh Cuong   December 1, 2021 | 10:14 pm PT
Quang Ninh Province, the biggest producer of coal in Vietnam, is proposing that waste rock discarded in exploitation be used as material for the ground filling process in construction projects.

Every year, coal mines in the northern province dump about 150 million cubic meters of soil and rock, creating piled up hills on thousands of hectares of land in Ha Long and Cam Pha towns.

This wasteland is close to residential areas, causing air pollution and posing the risk of landslides, especially during the rainy season.

"We are miserable here, every time the coal mining firms dump their waste, dust will spread all over the place. If the wind is strong, the sky would turn cloudy because of the dust. People here must close doors and windows all day long," said Yen, 70, who lives a kilometer away from a mine's waste dump in Mong Duong Ward, Cam Pha Town.

November 28, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong

Waste dumps of a coal mine near a residential area in Cam Pha Town of Quang Ninh Province, November 28, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong

Truong Xuan Ha, 73, another Cam Pha resident, said his neighborhood "has had to live with "hazardous fine dust for decades and all the petitions we have submitted to the authorities have made no difference."

In a notable case, a storm in 2015 caused landslides at the waste dump owned by the Coc Sau Coal JSC in Cam Pha Town, filling houses and land of people in the vicinity with soil and rocks.

Now, the province’s authorities have thought of a solution.

Cao Tuong Huy, Quang Ninh’s deputy chairman, noted that as this waste piles up, the demand for soil and rock to fill ground at many construction sites in the province is high at around 130 million cubic meters per year.

Therefore, the province came up with a plan to use waste rocks discarded in the coal mining process as ground filling materials for a five-year (2021-2025) period.

While this policy was formulated since early this year, it is yet to be implemented until now because of a number of obstacles, Huy said.

The coal mines' waste dumps are far from construction projects that have the need for ground filling materials, and the routes to transport the waste rock can cut through residential and urban areas, so it is necessary to have appropriate transportation solutions to minimize environmental pollution.

In addition, the Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin) has set very high prices for the waste rock, making it unattractive to investors and contractors.

"The province is asking Vinacomin to lower the price and preparing a plan to transport the waste rock by boats," Huy said.

November 29, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong

Waste rock discarded by coal mines in Quang Ninh Province, November 29, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong

Other complications

Another problem is that the process of exploiting and using waste rock as a ground filling material will change the content of the environmental impact assessment report and the plan for environmental rehabilitation and restoration of coal mining projects that have been approved.

Therefore, the management agencies need to have a mechanism to create favorable conditions for the coal industry to approve and make relevant adjustments to the reports, Huy said.

In addition, soil and rock at waste dumps of active coal mines are classified as "accompanying minerals," therefore, in order to use them in other construction projects, permission has to be obtained from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

"Quang Ninh is asking the ministry to grant it the authority to give firms that permission. In case the ministry wants to do the work itself, it will take more time because a team must be sent over to study the situation first."

Hoang Cao Phuong, head of the Minerals Department under the ministry’s General Department of Geology and Minerals of Vietnam, said the ingredients in the waste rock from coal mines in Quang Ninh are mainly mineral substances commonly used as building materials.

Therefore, the proposal of Quang Ninh Province to use it as ground filling material for construction projects was reasonable.

"The solution put forward by Quang Ninh will contribute to the efficient use of minerals in the process of exploiting coal mines; reducing pressure on the environment, reducing the area of land that has been occupied by the waste dumps," Phuong said.

But he noted that the materials from the coal mine could have adverse impacts on the water environment should they be used in building embankments along the coast.

The ministry has written to the ministries of Justice, Industry-Trade and Finance to discuss Quang Ninh’s proposal and will take a decision later on allowing the province to implement its plan, Phuong said.

Nguyen Van Sinh, deputy director of Cao Son Coal JSC, said every year his firm dumps 35-37 million cubic meters of waste rock into the environment and this has direct impacts on residential areas in Duong Huy Commune and Mong Duong Ward in Cam Pha Town.

"If the rock and soil from the mine’s waste dump can be used for other purposes, it would be a good thing for coal exploitation firms because it means we would have more space to continue the disposal," he said.

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