The Fallout From Vietnam's Mass Fish Deaths Continues

The mystery of Vietnam’s mass fish deaths was officially solved two months ago when Formosa Ha Tinh Steel (FHS) was found to be behind the discharge of toxins into the ocean on the country’s central coast. However, the saga continues to play out on various fronts.

It was hoped that the one positive that might come out of the whole sorry tale was better environmental stewardship from corporations and authorities. Yet it surfaced in mid July, not two weeks after FHS was slapped with the massive fine, that one of its business units was under investigation for burying waste on a farm in Ha Tinh province.

And to really round out the tale, the 100-ton waste was found buried on the farm owned by the director of the province’s environmental department. Samples were taken and are being analyzed to determine if it is toxic.

The country’s prime minister has called on government officials at all levels to not trade environmental protection for economic development. It seems like the message has yet to get through.

Meanwhile, a report commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, which was released on Monday, found that coastal areas of several provinces were gradually recovering, with samples showing a 90% reduction in toxins.

The study also found that the contamination in most areas was within the safe limits for swimming and fishing. They did note that several other places closer to the spill site needed continued monitoring.

The steel plant discharged toxic waste including phenol, cyanide and iron hydroxides. Numerous experts have predicted that the presence of heavy metals means a full recovery of the marine ecosystem could take decades. While some of the toxins will be dispersed by ocean currents, these heavy metals settle in the seabed and would require an extensive dredging operation to remove.

FHS has now paid the first half of what will be in total a $500 million fine. Soon after the penalty was announced, Vietnamese Prime Minster Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the government would “transparently and thoroughly” make public how it uses funds. The intention is for it to help support fishing communities devastated by the pollution and beef up environmental protections.

That this statement was even made tells much of the story, as do recent survey findings on the public’s faith in the integrity of officials in the public sector.

Source URL: Forbes