Cheap apartment residents suffer polluted water

By Hai Hien, Quynh Nguyen   October 25, 2023 | 07:12 am PT
Cheap apartment residents suffer polluted water
Residents of Hanoi's Thanh Ha urban complex lining up to receive clean water, Oct. 17, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/ Phan Minh Chau
The first thing that Van Thanh does whenever she returns home to her apartment is to check to see if the cloth wrapped around her faucet is dirty or clean.

If it’s clean, she can use the water for cooking. If it’s dirty, the water in her home can only be used for laundry and showering.

This 40-year-old Hanoian living at the Thanh Ha urban complex in Thanh Oai District had to adopt the habit when she moved in five years ago, and she’s never been able to break it.

"After devoting my life savings to buying a home, I never thought I would one day live so miserably," she said.

In 2016, Van Thanh and her husband bought a 58 sq.m. apartment in the Thanh Ha urban complex, 20 km from their workplace. When they moved in, they realized dozens of things were wrong. The first was the polluted water.

There were constant inquiries about the water quality in the residents’ social media group, with some even saying that they found strange organisms and garbage in their water tank.

In October this year, residents began commenting that their children developed red itches after showering and that their pet fish were dying after replacing the water.

The Institute of Environmental Technology then took samples for testing and announced that the amount of ammonia in the water was 38 times higher than acceptable levels. The amount of chlorine was also 10 times higher than regulation.

As an explanation, Duong Dinh Trinh, Vice President of the Thanh Ha Fresh Water Joint Stock Company, which supplies water to the building, said the firm’s factories were experiencing a shortage of fresh surface water.

This in turn had forced the company to increase the supply of groundwater from drilled wells threefold, he said, adding that Thanh Ha thus did not have enough time to fully process the biochemical levels in the water.

From Oct. 14, the company suspended the supply of water to the residential complex for an investigation, turning the lives of the residents of 23 apartment towers upside down. For the past week, the sight of children and the elderly watching the adults in their families wander the lobbies asking neighbors if they have any clean water to spare has become common.

Unfortunately, Thanh Ha’s water pollution problem is not unique in Vietnam’s capital city. According to a survey conducted by VnExpress, apartment buildings such as the Xuan Mai Complex in Ha Dong District and the Hoa Phat Apartments in Hoang Mai District have experienced the same issue.

Nguyen Van Thang, the management head of the HH2 building at Xuan Mai, said that in March of this year, 30-40% out of 1,704 families in the complex said that the water they were using had changed color and was dirty. The management board tested the water and the results revealed that the level of manganese, nitrate, and nitrite—elements that can cause poisoning and damage human organs—surpassed regulated levels by 1.2 to 9 times.

Pham Ngoc Hoan, a representative of the Ha Dong Fresh Water Company, which supplies Xuan Mai, explained that water supplied by the Da and Duong rivers was down by 20-30%. This meant the firm has had to "constantly open the valves t0 increase pressure flowing into the pipes, causing dirt and grime to flake off and be carried to the apartments," he said.

"One other reason why the water is dirty could be because the pipes haven’t been properly maintained in the five years since the apartment building opened," Hoan added. He advised residents to let the faucet run for a few seconds before each use of water to clear out any dirt.

This answer has not satisfied the families living in the affected buildings. They said the problem had been going on for two to three years now.

Quoc Hung, a 39-year-old resident of the HH2 building, said: "Every time there’s a problem with the water, the company and management board blames the pipes and says that there is a supply shortage. If that was true, why didn’t the contractors warn us about it in the first place?"

Nguyen Van Dinh, Vice President of the Vietnam Association of Realtors, said that most apartments suffering these types of problems are usually low-priced units that cater to low- and middle-income families.

"Because of the cheap price, it’s more common for the owners to invest less into making sure that infrastructure meets regulated standards. This leads to the quality of basic necessities such as water and electricity not being guaranteed," he said.

Clogged arteries

Water is not the only thing that these inexpensive apartment dwellers have to worry about. Elevator congestion has also become a headache for many.

"It happens every day," said Thu Huyen, a 35-year-old living in an apartment in Thanh Tri District.

Her apartment complex consists of two 31-story buildings connected to each other, housing 900 apartments that collectively use nine elevators capable of carrying 15 people each. However, the elevators are rarely all in operation at the same time because some are always out of order.

The elevators also move extremely slowly, and so every morning, long lines form in front of them. Some residents living in apartments from the 15th floor downward chose to take the stairs because it is faster.

Doctor Dao Ngoc Nghiem, Vice President of the Vietnam Urban Planning and Development Association and former head of the Hanoi Department of Planning and Architecture, said that the problem of elevator congestion and malfunction affects the lives and safety of many apartment residents in Hanoi. The problem stems from using older models of elevators and not maintaining them frequently, as well as high demand due to the rising population.

"If the investors chose to install high-capacity elevators from the start and properly maintain them, then the congestion problem would not be as severe," Nghiem said.

Aside from the problem of low-quality amenities, residents in these types of apartments also have to deal with the bad behavior of their neighbors.

"Knives, brooms, and potted plants have fallen from [windows/balconies above me in] the apartment building I live in. One time, a mop almost hit my head. I was scared to death," said Pham Huong, 45, who bought an apartment in Hoang Mai District for VND700 million in 2017.

Aside from that, residents have also complained about poor soundproofing, causing all kinds of noises to flow in and out of homes throughout the building, from the sound of children playing in the hallway and drilling from neighboring apartments to vehicles 0n surrounding streets.

The head of a civil cluster at the Linh Dam Urban Complex who requested anonymity said local authorities have asked residents to be more considerate of their neighbors, to no avail.

One solution to some of these problems could be moving to higher-quality apartments. But that’s easier said than done, as apartments in the center and even outer Hanoi now sell for VND2-3 billion, way beyond the budget of low-income and middle-income workers.

Pham Huong, whose residence in Hoang Mai District suffers objects falling from above, said: "I know it’s tough, but I got what I paid for. The only thing I can do is adapt and rise above the hardships."

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