Fears over mercury leak from Vietnam factory fire

Residents call for clear information about health risks from 'human disaster' in Hanoi
Fears over mercury leak from Vietnam factory fire

An environment official checks for a potential risk of toxin poisoning following a fire on Aug. 28 at Rang Dong Light Source & Vacuum Flask Joint Stock Company in Thanh Xuan district of Hanoi. (AFP photo)

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi
September 12, 2019
Authorities in Vietnam have been accused of hiding the truth about the health risks of a mercury leak caused by a fierce fire at a Hanoi lightbulb factory.

Hanoi city leader Nguyen Duc Chung issued instructions on Sept. 10 on how to repair damage to the environment and public health caused by the six-hour blaze that gutted a 6,000-square-meter warehouse at the Rang Dong Light Source & Vacuum Flask Joint Stock Company in Thanh Xuan district on Aug. 28.

But residents are concerned that authorities have given contradictory advice about the dangers of mercury in the atmosphere.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry estimates that between 15.2 and 27.2 kilograms of mercury were leaked into the environment after the blaze. The amount exceeded the World Health Organization’s warning levels by 10-30 times.

Chung ordered state agencies and the firm to collect and remove waste and wreckage from the scene of the blaze, clean up the environment and move the firm’s facilities to a new place. He also asked health officials to provide free medical check-ups for all children and teachers from nursery schools near the blaze site.

Hanoi Department of Health reported that 1,200 residents aged 40-60 had received health checks, with 400 requiring mercury tests and 34 hospitalized.

In the days after the blaze, several people reported unusual fatigue and stinging eyes. Many residents have left their homes for other places due to health concerns, while others have closed their shops and restaurants.

“The consequences of this human disaster will badly affect our lives for a long time, so it is better that we move to a safer place,” one resident said.

Some people said authorities have not asked them about their suffering and damage caused by the fire.

They accused government officials of hiding true information about the fire. One day after the blaze, Ha Dinh ward officials warned people not to use vegetables, poultry and water from within a one-kilometer radius of the site. They were also asked to wear masks and keep good personal hygiene. However, Thanh Xuan district officials then asked Ha Dinh officials to withdraw their warnings.

Residents said the government should issue clear warnings about the risks to public health caused by mercury. They also said Rang Dong’s managers have not spoken to people about damage and compensation.

On Sept. 6, company director Nguyen Toan Thang reportedly wrote to government officials to apologize for the incident.

Hanoi has 186 manufacturers based in residential areas, causing pollution and risks of fire, according to official statistics. They have been asked to move to rural areas.

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