Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. Earth Science News .

Subscribe free to our newsletters via your

'Cancer village' the dark side of Vietnam's industrial boom

The Lam Thao fertiliser factory in the northern province of Phu Tho. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Thach Son, Vietnam (AFP) Dec 1, 2008
Gazing at the Soviet-era factory that looms over his northern Vietnamese commune, Quang Van Vinh remembers what the farmland here looked like before it became known as a "cancer village".

"This used to be a vast garden of bamboo, banana, jackfruit and longan trees," says the 62-year-old, visiting his long-abandoned childhood home, now a muddy wasteland of brick kilns.

"It's sad that there's almost no sign of life anymore."

Vinh says things changed quickly in the Red River village in 1962 after the Lam Thao fertiliser plant was built and started pumping wastewater into streams and rice fields, and black smoke into the sky.

"You could smell the factory's smoke everywhere," he says. "People started to cough. All those trees died. Local people didn't know why. Then the authorities moved us all out about 15 years ago."

Vinh says his son died of throat cancer in 2000 aged 23.

"I really think my son died of cancer because of industrial pollution," says Vinh, though he has no scientific proof to back his belief.

Dr Le Van Ton, the head of the local clinic, said the annual death toll from cancer in the commune of 7,000 had climbed almost every year for nearly a decade -- to 15 deaths last year from three in 1999.

The doctor said he is now treating 41 cancer cases, including a primary school student.

"Most of the cancer victims in our commune used to live in areas close to the factory," he said.

A few years ago, Thach Son made national headlines as a "cancer village".

Government officials came, took water samples and looked at health statistics, said people's committee deputy chairman Nguyen Van Thang.

Then they left and the commune has not heard from them since, he added.

Like many developing countries, communist Vietnam has opted for rapid industrialisation which has created prosperity but also taken an often catastrophic toll on the natural environment and public health.

Vietnam now has hundreds of industrial parks and thousands of factories, and less than one third of their liquid waste is treated before it is discharged into waterways, the government says.

Environmental inspectors must announce their factory visits in advance and fines are so low that many companies prefer to pay up rather than fit expensive air and water pollution control systems.

Foreign investors meeting at the biannual Vietnam Business Forum (VBF) conference in Hanoi on Monday said they were "deeply concerned about the worsening degradation of Vietnam's environment".

"The dumping of industrial pollutants directly into human water supplies has reached alarming proportions, destroying aquaculture and agricultural livelihoods of millions of farmers," said Baker and McKenzie lawyer Fred Burke, delivering the VBF report on the manufacturing sector.

"A manufacturing facility is literally more likely to get hit by lightning than suffer any serious legal consequences of ignoring the pollution laws, especially if it is state-owned."

Rivers and streams in the biggest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where many houses have groundwater wells, are often garbage-strewn open sewers which, local scientists say, have become biological "zero-life zones".

A recent cholera outbreak, one of several in Vietnam over the past year, sickened 23 people in central Nghe An province. It was traced to bacteria in fish and oysters harvested from the polluted Mai Giang River.

Vietnam, unlike China, has not yet seen protests against factories or over other environmental issues but its leaders have woken up to the fact that the environmental carnage can no longer be ignored.

In recent months, authorities have launched an unprecedented crackdown against several major polluters -- showing both a new will to act and the limitations of Vietnam's environmental laws and enforcement agencies.

Taiwanese food additive maker Vedan was caught in early September allegedly dumping 100,000 cubic metres of untreated effluent a month through hidden pipes into the southern Thi Vai River, killing a stretch of the waterway.

Local residents had complained for more than a decade but the government acted only after shipping companies said they would no longer dock at a nearby river port because the pollution was corroding the hulls of their boats.

The environment ministry in early October ordered the MSG-maker to stop discharging wastewater but provincial officials several weeks later said they did not have authority to act against the company or close it down.

Press reports since then have said Vedan had scaled back its wastewater discharge but the company declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told the national assembly last month that Vietnam had to protect the environment but, in the Vedan case, also needed to think of protecting the thousands of factory jobs at the plant.

Share This Article With Planet Earth DiggDigg RedditReddit
YahooMyWebYahooMyWeb GoogleGoogle FacebookFacebook

Related Links
Our Polluted World and Cleaning It Up

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Vo Quy, father of Vietnam's environmental movement
Hanoi (AFP) Dec 1, 2008
Vo Quy long studied the toxic legacy of the wartime herbicide Agent Orange, but today Vietnam's best known environmentalist warns of the home-grown dangers of industrial pollution and habitat loss.

  • Rats trained to sniff land mines, TB
  • Health issues affect FEMA trailer kids
  • Australia, Indonesia create disaster reduction center
  • China has only identified 19,000 victims of earthquake: official

  • US ready to climb into hot seat on climate change
  • Bangladesh's climate refugees search for higher ground
  • Putting A Green Cap On Garbage Dumps
  • Analysis: Rocking the CO2 problem

  • Ball Aerospace Completes CDR For Landsat's Operational Land Imager
  • ATK's EO-1 Satellite Far Exceeds Design And Mission Life
  • NASA-USAID Earth Observation System Expands To Africa
  • Raytheon Sensor Designed To Promote Understanding Of Global Warming

  • National Wind Solutions Faces The Wind Of Economic Uncertainty
  • Analysis: Iran seeks energy industry cash
  • Analysis: Nigeria focuses on security
  • Oil prices climb after China cuts rates

  • Indonesia's vast Papua in the grip of Asia's worst AIDS crisis
  • Study checks toll of S. Africa's AIDS plan
  • Study Of Ancient And Modern Plagues Finds Common Features
  • More funding failing to curb AIDS epidemic in Russia: official

  • Flies May Reveal Evolutionary Step To Live Birth
  • Study shows sea slugs act like plants
  • Solar-Powered Sea Slugs Live Like Plants
  • Climate Change Wiped Out Cave Bears 13 Millennia Earlier Than Thought

  • 'Cancer village' the dark side of Vietnam's industrial boom
  • Vo Quy, father of Vietnam's environmental movement
  • Light Pollution Offers New Global Measure Of Coral Reef Health
  • Analysis: Blue Congress looks greener too

  • Americans' midsection a weighty issue
  • Parents clasp hands of children in ancient graves
  • Firms scan brain waves to improve ads in Japan
  • Surprising Effects Of Climate Patterns In Ancient China

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2007 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement