SLP Environmental Consultants expand their environmental consultancy services into Vietnam

Rapid industrialization, an evolving environmental regulatory system and a growing awareness of the importance of protecting the natural environment has resulted in SLP Environmental Consultants extending their environmental consultancy services into the Vietnamese market.

Over the last decade, industrial activities in Vietnam have made a significant contribution to the stable development of the country’s socio-economic and national economic development targets. However, in the development process, these industrial manufacturing activities and associated infrastructure expansion works have taken their toll on Vietnam’s natural environment and environmental law enforcement has historically been patchy and often lax.

It is not uncommon to read reports in the Vietnam press of rivers and groundwaters polluted by large volumes of untreated industrial effluent and municipal wastewater, or how the uncontrolled burial of hazardous wastes has contaminated groundwaters making them unusable for drinking water supply. Atmospheric pollution has also risen as a result of rapid industrialization and smoke, dust and odour pollution from facilities such as cement manufacturing and seafood processing plants is widespread.

One environmental pollution incident extensively publicised in the Vietnam press over the last few months is the Taiwanese-financed monosodium glutamate producer Vedan Vietnam who were caught red-handed polluting the Thi Vai River in Ba Ria Vung Tau Province, 67km south of Ho Chi Minh City. They have been discharging thousands of cubic metres of untreated wastewater into the river every day for the last 14 years and as a result a 15km stretch of the river is now grossly polluted. The Vietnamese Government have suspended the factories operations and fined the company a US$7.5 million retrospective environmental protection fine, and additionally some 1,000 local residents whose health and livelihoods have suffered are preparing a class action against the company. According to the Vietnam Environmental Protection Agency (VEPA), the Thi Vai River receives daily some 34,000 cubic metres of untreated wastewater discharged from nearly 200 companies operating in the river basin and as a result ships can no longer anchor at Go Dau Port in Dong Nai Province because of pollution damage.
There is also a requirement for the public infrastructure within Vietnam to be improved. The World Bank estimates that only 14% of wastewater in Vietnam’s main cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Hai Phong is treated and only 50% of rural families have access to sanitation. Ho Chi Minh City is currently improving its sewerage system and wastewater treatment facilities, but there is extensive scope for new projects and the expansion of such utilities across the country.

(…)

Vietnam was recently described in a UK Trade and Invest Report as one of the most attractive emerging markets globally. Foreign Direct investment (FDI) is at record rates with Vietnam currently ranking fifth in the world with a FDI estimate for 2008 of US$60 billion, with additional billions being loaned for new infrastructure projects by International Financial Institutions such as the Asian Development Bank. These projects include hydroelectric power plants, wastewater treatment and waste disposal facilities, urban mass transit schemes, new expressways and the upgrading of existing roads and canals. Industrial growth for the period January to September 2008 was reported by the General Statistics Office as 15.2% and this rapid growth is demonstrated by the fact that by 2015 six new steel smelting plants with associated deep water ports will have been constructed in Vietnam. Currently Vietnam has a heavy reliance on imported steel and they wish to increase their domestic production of cast iron and steel of different kinds to meet increasing domestic demand and develop a new export market.

Vietnam is also capitalizing on its prime location as a tourist destination with the construction of new urban centres such as Thu Thiem Peninsula, located directly across the Saigon River from the historic core area of District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City. Leisure resorts in the design phase include Da Nang New City and Phu Quoc Island which are being touted as ‘clean tourist destinations’ incorporating sustainable development principals and special environmental protection initiatives. Such projects are viewed favorably by the Vietnamese Government. Furthermore Vietnam as a developing country finds itself in the advantageous position of being able to learn from the experiences of other more developed countries and design and build green sustainable buildings and infrastructure which will have a huge benefit for the local, regional and global environment.

(…)

As Vietnam’s economy grows at a breakneck pace, many Vietnamese are quite rightly worried about the potential trade-off between economic development and the environment. There is a rising consensus that economic development should not come at too high a price and more consideration needs to be given to sustainable development and protecting the natural environment for future generations. Environmental pollution in particular is threatening to undercut recent economic gains as it has a detrimental effect on human health and the ecosystems that Vietnam relies on for sustenance. Environmental pollution also has economic consequences as agricultural and aquacultural production is increasingly affected.

To put the problem in perspective, the number of polluting companies is now so high and the effects of pollution so visible that some banks are exercising corporate social responsibility and refusing to lend to polluting companies without concrete evidence that they are taking real steps to tackle their irresponsible environmental behavior.

Read full story

Vietnam Cracks Down on Polluters

Pollution in a Vietnamese river. Robert Judges / Alamy

Pollution in a Vietnamese river. Robert Judges / Alamy

Long before a government report confirmed it, villagers living along the banks of the Thi Vai river in the Mekong Delta knew full well that the waterway was dead. They had complained for years that industrial waste discharged into the Thi Vai had poisoned their wells, killed all the fish and was making them sick. Yet it wasn’t until cargo companies refused to dock at the river’s main port — saying that the toxic brew was eating through the ships’ hulls — that Vietnam officials were willing to get tough on polluters.

Last month, with pressure mounting, investigators announced they had caught a Taiwanese-owned monosodium glutamate factory red-handed. Though it had taken three months of undercover work, inspectors discovered that Vedan Vietnam, a foreign-owned company, was illegally dumping untreated waste into the river. Natural Resources and Environment Minister Pham Khoi Nguyen called it “not just a violation but, in fact, treacherous behavior.” An unprecedented crackdown followed: a Korean MSG manufacturer was nabbed dumping toxic waste. Several foreign-owned starch factories, which can release cyanide during processing, were shut down. On October 10, inspectors caught a Vietnamese leather tanning company pumping carcinogenic chemicals into a river in Ho Chi Minh City.

This sudden, aggressive enforcement of environmental regulations has become almost a rite of passage for industrializing nations. Now it’s Vietnam’s turn. The communist government’s embrace of the free market has lifted millions out of poverty over the last decade. But just as in neighboring China, environmental considerations have been largely pushed aside in the race to build factories and industrial parks, few of them equipped with adequate wastewater treatment facilities.

The predictable result: pollution of the country’s lands and waters on a shocking scale. According to Vietnam’s state media, thousands of large — and small-scale industries — discharge at least 33,000 cubic meters of waste into the Mekong River system every day. Midwife Le Thi Thanh Thuy, who lives a kilometer from the Vedan plant, tells pregnant women living along the Thi Vai River not to drink the water. Even some well water burns people’s skin and isn’t used to wash clothes. “They are so poor, they don’t have enough money to buy rice,” says Thuy. “So how can they buy water?”

Enforcement gets short shrift, because local governments benefit from development, says Doan Canh, a professor at the Institute for Tropical Biology. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has only a few environmental inspectors, who typically must get permission from factory owners to inspect an industrial site. And when a company is found to be illegally discharging wastewater, the fines are too low — Vedan was fined several times in the past for a total of $1,400 — to be a deterrent. “I gave evidence of serious pollution from these factories, particularly Vedan, in 1994,” says Canh. “But the relevant state agencies have let those violations continue for years.”

What angers villagers is that the pollution is there for anyone to see. Le Thi Nung doesn’t need a scientist in a lab coat to tell her that the river is full of poison. Her village in Dong Nai’s district of Long Thanh once depended upon fishing and small farms. “After Vedan opened, the pollution killed all the fish so I had nothing to feed my seven children,” she complains, adding that the factory brought few of the promised benefits, only cancers and stomach ailments. With no other options, Nung’s 19-year-old daughter married a Taiwanese man twice her age. The family now lives on the $100-$200 she sends home every month.

Environmental degradation is beginning to threaten some of the economic gains Vietnam has made. Once lucrative shrimp farms are dying, and the country’s efforts to market itself as a tourist destination are undermined by images of poisoned rivers. And while it is doubtful that the Thi Vai river’s chemical stew could actually eat through a steel hull, the threat that ships would not stop at the Go Dau port, delivered a clear message about the potential economic impact of pollution.

On Tuesday, October 14, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered the government to get tough on polluters. It fined Vedan $16,000 and ordered to the company to pay $7.6M in environmental back dues it owes. These are fees the company was supposed to pay in order to pollute. They had not paid these fees in several years and so criminal charges could still be filed. This should send out a clear message to all manufacturers, says Natural Resources and Environment Minister Pham Khoi Nguyen.

But the Prime Minister’s call for tougher enforcement also cautioned local authorities to balance environmental protection with development to ensure growth is sustainable. In a press conference after the charges against Vedan were made public, Nguyen, the Natural Resources and Environment Minister, conceded he was under a lot of pressure. “Many local officials have called me to say that we have to lower standards on the environment,” the Natural Resources and Environment Minister said, “otherwise they can’t attract foreign investors.”

Meanwhile, Vedan is still making condiments for Vietnam’s dinner tables. Despite the tough talk, it does not appear that the government is going to shut them down.
Vietnam Cracks Down on Polluters – TIME

Vietnam Needs to Combat Industrial Pollutions says World Bank

June 30, 2008Industrialization is taking its toll on Vietnam’s environment and more funds should be dedicated to fighting pollution, the World Bank said in a study published on June 27. Between 1990 and 2005 Vietnam achieved an average annual growth rate of 7.5% in gross domestic product, driven largely by the industrial sector, but little was being done to protect the environment, the study said.

“There is a growing pressure on the government to raise public expenditure on pollution control and to force business to do the same,” the study said. “The cost to the economy of pollution, which is increasing in volume and toxicity, are becoming evident to the government and the public at large.”

Funds dedicated to fighting pollution gradually grew from 2000 to 2005, when it reached $600 million , But the bank said Vietnam needed about $2.5 billion  to adequately address the problem.

Five provinces or big cities, including the financial hub Ho Chi Minh City and capital Hanoi, are home to 63%  of manufacturing jobs and nearly 55% of the country’s industrial firms. “Industrial pollution is highly concentrated in certain areas of the country, and originates from a few manufacturing subsectors,” the study said.The manufacturing of chemical products and shoes were among the top polluters in the country, the bank said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

http://www.industryweek.com/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=16694