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After being found causing pollution that damages local residents and businesses, the Tan Rai bauxite plant in Lam Dong Province blamed it on “a few workers’ shortcomings,” saying it was an isolated incident and there was no chemical leakage from the plant.
The sodium hydroxide tank, which was found not in good condition , Photo: Tuoi Tre
However, as Tuoi Tre newspaper found out, the negligence of the contractor, China Aluminum International Engineering Corporation Limited (Chalieco), in maintaining the sodium hydroxide tank was also responsible for the pollution.
Tran Duong Le, deputy director of the Management Board of the Lam Dong Aluminum-Bauxite Complex Project, showed Tuoi Tre reporters who visited the plant yesterday a report it sent to the provincial People’s Committee.
According to the report, the pollution was caused by workers who placed bags of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) outdoors and the rainwater dissolved the chemical and swept it away into the soil.
Nguyen Hoai Anh, head of the district Natural Resources and Environment Department estimated about 200 hectares of coffee, tea and fish pools had been affected by the NaOH-contaminated wastewater from the plant.
Bui Cong Lien, deputy head of Cao Nguyen Tea Seedlings Company in Loc Thang Town, said in late July that his company found the wastewater discharged from the plant had a pungent smell and was effervescent and oily.
“We’ve inspected and found the wastewater was released from the underground sewerage of the plant and had a pH level of 12.6, which is far higher than the allowable limit of 6-9 in Vietnam,” Hoai Anh said, adding that rain waters in the past few days had helped to dilute the contaminated water.
A test later conducted by the provincial Natural Resources and Environment Department showed the pH level at 10.53.
About 10 fish pools owned by locals have been affected by the pollution. Nguyen Thi Viet, a resident, said the polluted water had killed all of the fish in her three pools as well as vegetables and thin-peel lemon.
Many residents said they had to buy water elsewhere for their family’s daily use, since the water in their wells had been contaminated.
Le said, “The pollution happened because of the workers’ carelessness. There was no leakage of the chemical as it is safely contained in a concrete reservoir.”
Wastewater released from the Tan Rai bauxite plant had a pungent smell and was effervescent and oily (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
Chemical tank not in good condition
Tuoi Tre later visited a 1,000-square meter area of the factory, only part of which is roofed, where a 200-cubic meter NaOH tank is located. Our reporters found many 25-kg bags of NaOH on the cement floor that was covered with rainwater that flowed in from the area that was unroofed and had no protection walls.
The provincial Natural Resources and Environment Department had previously warned the plant against the possible danger when on September 8 its inspectors found “some places on the walls of the tank were damaged and its bottom was eroded, forming small openings.”
The plant yesterday told Tuoi Tre it had “corrected” the problem by asking Chalieco to repair the tank and post warning signs of danger at the tank area, but Tuoi Tre found the tank was in nearly the same condition as had been described by the inspectors.
Huynh Van Chin, director of the department, said the special supervision team set up by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to monitor the plant’s building and operation inspected the plant twice a month.
The recent pollution, however, was first discovered by the Bao Lam district authorities, following the complaints of local residents and businesses. They then reported it to the ministry and the provincial authorities.
Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Bui Cach Tuyen, told Tuoi Tre that the special supervision team mainly monitors “more important work” like the construction of the holding tank for red sludge, a byproduct of the refining of bauxite into alumina.
“We will order the team, local agencies, the investor and the contractor to strictly follow regulations on environmental protection to avoid similar problems,” he said.
Relevant agencies have yet to assess the impacts of the pollution on residential areas to determine the level of damage and compensation for the locals.
Source: Tuoi Tre
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