Vietnam-based Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh
Steel Corp (FHS), a subsidiary of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group, is undergoing media attack and public fury over allegations of toxic leak from a mega steel mill that may have caused mysterious mass fish deaths.
Reports on seafood deaths arose at the start of this month when tons of shrimp and clams perished when seawater was pumped into farmers’ raising ponds near the steel plant. Mass fish deaths were reported in areas in the same sea current further south.
Local media has been driving attention to a 1.5-kilometer waste water pipeline that runs directly from Formosa’s steel mill in Ha Tinh province’s Vung Ang Economic Zone into the ocean.
Diver Le Van Ngay, 46, died on the way to hospital on Sunday after suffering chest pains and breathing difficulties, a day after working at a port of FHS.
His co-workers at International Manpower and Construction JSC (Nibelc), a contractor of FHS, said he dived down a port of the company on Saturday for construction work at an embankment project.
Ngay’s colleagues, who have been working for years, said they have not felt well after swimming in the sea recently, the Thanh Nien (Youth) newspaper reported.
Fish died en masse in central Vietnam. (Photo: Internet)
Earthquake, Oil Spills Ruled out
The Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) has ruled out earthquake and oil spills as causes to the mass fish deaths.
The have been no large oil spills or earthquakes that register 5.0 or higher on the Richter scale offshore the central region over the past month, according to a VAST study.
“A thermal shock caused by superficial or inside movements in the ocean has also been ruled out. The two earthquake in Japan on April 14 and 16 had no impact on the studied region,” the VAST said in a report.
The Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development has affirmed that the fish deaths might not have been caused by contagious diseases, but an “extremely strong toxic substance.”
The zones where fish died en masse. (Photo: VnExpress)
FHS Denies Dead Fish Link
FHS on Tuesday said that there was no evidence linking the company to large number of dead fish in central Vietnam.
“The company has handled all wastewater in compliance with [Vietnamese] government rules and inspection procedures,” FHS said in a statement.
The firm spent $45 million on its drainage system and it discharges 11,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day via subsea pipelines, less than the upper limit of 45,000m3 set by authorities, and that its system is subject to continuous automatic monitoring, according to the statement.
“We hope the Vietnamese authorities can clarify the situation as soon as possible,” said an FHS representative.
Vietnamese Vice Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Vo Tuan Nhan said Formosa Ha Tinh Steel’s drainage system is legal and consistent with the nation’s standards governing wastewater discharge.
“The problem is what and how (Formosa) discharged," from the waste-water pipe, said the deputy minister.
According to media reports, Formosa has recently imported some 300 tons of toxic chemicals. At a press meeting on Tuesday, a Formosa official said that the chemicals were not used to clean the waste water pipe.
Professor Le Huy Ba, an environmental expert, told the Tuoi Tre newspaper as saying that the 45 chemicals imported by FHS include hazardous and extremely hazardous ones.
Formosa executives apologize for the misunderstood statement: Vietnamese authorities must decide whether to “catch fish and shrimp, or to build a modern steel factory.” (Photo: VnExpress)
Huge Economic Losses
Local fishermen are claiming that before the company arrived in the area, fish and shrimp were plentiful, but since it began work, fish stocks have shrunk.
Vietnam’s central provinces are heavily dependent on seafood, including farmed shrimp, catfish and wild-caught tuna, and tourism.
Last year, the country earned $6.6 billion from seafood exports.
Local consumers have turned their back on seafood products for fear of getting poisoned. Meanwhile, fewer people go bathing in the nearby sea.
FHS’ major shareholders include FPG, China Steel Corp and Japanese firm JFE Steel Corp, and it is the biggest foreign direct investment in Vietnam, according to FPG’s Web site.
Around 1,000 hectares of land were claimed and 1,500 households were relocated for the Formosa plant project.