The Chinese steel industry is often in the news for contributing to severe air pollution but now a Taiwanese-owned steel mill in Vietnam is accused of polluting the ocean and causing a mass fish death.
Toxic discharge from Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp, a subsidiary of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics, is responsible for killing an estimated 115 tonnes of fish that washed ashore on Vietnam’s central coastline in April. Waste water from the mill containing cyanide and carbolic acids was released into the sea, devastating the Vietnamese fishing industry in four provinces and disrupting daily life and tourism.
“Our company takes full responsibility and sincerely apologizes to the Vietnamese people … for causing the environmental disaster which seriously affected the livelihood, production and jobs of the people and the sea environment,” he said in a statement. The company pledged $500 million to clean up the environment and compensate those affected, including 41,000 fishermen. In July, the ministry said that the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people had been harmed.
Last week the Vietnam Ministry of Health warned the public that consuming seafood caught off the 120 mile coast of the four affected provinces—Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue, was still unsafe.
Citizens are warned not to eat marine creatures that live at the seafloor within 13.5 nautical miles of shore. Only fish harvested from mid-water or more than 20 miles from shore are considered safe, as are those from aquatic farms where the toxins have been diluted.
Not surprisingly, the directives have been confusing for consumers in the area who have no idea if the seafood they purchase is from a safe zone. They have also been told that seafood caught in the affected areas will contain residual toxins for a long time.
The $500 million promised by Formosa Ha Tinh has yet to be distributed to fisherman and others who have lost their livelihood due to the environmental disaster. Protestors say the company has provided the funding to the government but the Ministry has not released it for clean up or to the people.
Fisherman poured into a small provincial court in Ha Tinh province on Monday seeking restitution and overwhelming the small court. A Catholic priest leading the group told Reuters that 545 people were there to submit their lawsuits. Thousands of protestors came to support the fisherman and were closely watched by police and military.
Some families who have been without income for several months complained of large bank debt and the inability to pay school tuition for their children.
Formosa Ha Tinh Steel was built for $10.6 billion in Ha Tinh province making it one of the largest foreign investments in Vietnam. The complex includes a steel mill, power plant and deep sea port. The company said it is working to correct problems at the mill that precipitated the disaster.
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