Vietnam says Taiwan firm's pollution affected 200,000 people

HANOI, Vietnam – Toxic waste discharged from a Taiwanese-owned steel complex in central Vietnam harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen, the Vietnamese government said in tallying the damage from what it has called the country’s worst environmental disaster.

The pollution from a unit of Formosa Plastics Group also decimated tourism in four provinces, the Thanh Nien newspaper on Friday quoted the government saying in a report to the National Assembly.

Formosa acknowledged late last month that it was responsible for the pollution and pledged to pay $500 million to clean it up and compensate affected people.

An estimated 115 tons of fish washed ashore along more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) of Vietnam’s central coast in April, the report said, adding 140 tons of farmed fish and 67 tons of farmed clams have died.

The pollution sparked rare protests across the country.

The report said the government must learn from the incident and carry out proper oversight of the environment, especially when the country wants to attract more foreign investment following the signing of the 12-member trade pact, the Trans Pacific Partnership, that includes the United States and Japan.

In a speech to the National Assembly broadcast live on state television Friday, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha said Formosa has paid the first amount of $250 million. The report said the government will begin to compensate affected people next month.

Formosa’s $10.6 billion steel complex in Ha Tinh province includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port and is one of the largest foreign investments in Vietnam.

Toxins including cyanide and carbolic acids were released into the sea during a test run of the plant. A preliminary assessment of the damage showed the pollution affected 450 hectares of coral reefs, of which 40 to 60 per cent were destroyed. Some groups of sea creatures were depleted by half.

The report said most small fishing vessels did not sail because the near shore waters contained no fish or seafood to catch. Trawlers that were able to go farther out to sea, beyond the polluted waters, were the main vessels able to operate, the report said.

Ha said his ministry is working on a comprehensive plan to tackle the pollution problem at the Formosa plant, which includes perfecting the waste treatment facilities and setting up an online pollution monitoring system.

A panel of scientists is expected in mid-August to assessment the pollution levels and what needs to be done to address them.