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|An aerial view of Halong Bay, the UNESCO World Heritage site in the northeastern province of Quang Ninh.- VNA/VNS Photo Trung Nguyen|
The factory, which specialises in cleaning agents is planned to produce an annual output of 20,000 tonnes of abrasive lye (sodium hydroxide) in addition to several other agents such as bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and industrial wastewater treatment agent Polyaluminum Chloride (PAC), is based at the Viet Hung Industrial Park. The position of the 300ha industrial park is already a controversial issue as it lies near the head of Cua Luc River, which runs directly into the waters of Ha Long Bay.
Pham Dinh Huynh, deputy head of the bay management board, said caution must be exercised.
“Should the factory run into leakage issues, the Halong Bay area will be directly effected, which aside from environmental damage, will affect the tourism and service sectors in the province,” he said.
Huynh cited the case of Ninh Binh Province’s authorities relocating a cement manufacturer out of the Tràng An heritage landscape complex as a “good lesson for any local government to follow for better protection of the environment and sustainable development.”
In late 2006, Quang Ninh Province’s economic zone management board and the Tan Tien Production and Trade JSC, headquartered in Hanoi, invested in a lye factory.
Previously, Tan Tien received certification from the local authorities to produce alum as its main product (4,800 tonnes a year), with lye on the side (nearly 1,000 tonnes a year). The company has since met the requirements of environmental protection, land planning and workshop construction, and put the project into operation in 2013, authorities said.
Two years later, the company requested to expand its production and wanted to build another factory dedicated to producing 20,000 tonnes of lye per year in another land slot within the Viet Hung IP.
Based on opinions from the local authorities and the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the expansion was accepted and the new cleaning agent factory was included by the Vietnamese Government into its national chemical development plan towards 2020.
In May 2016, the Quang Ninh EZ management board granted a new certificate for Tan Tien JSC to begin the construction of the new factory.
Then in March 2017, the environmental ministry approved the project’s environmental impact assessment, which already included its recommendations in case of chlorine leakage incidents.
Last month, Quang Ninh held a meeting with all stakeholders – the investor, environment ministry, industry and trade ministry, as well as scientists – to review whether the investor’s proposals conflicted with the socio-economic development of the local community.
At present, Hoang Trung Kien, deputy head of the Quang Ninh EZ management board, said the new project has been suspended and the board is still considering the case and will deliver a final answer to the investor by the end of this month.
Industrial projects can only be started when their environmental impact assessment documents, including requirements to ensure the quality of discharged water, are approved by authorities, Tran Dong A, a retired senior expert on planning and environment residing in Halong City, said.
“That is on paper. Once the project is up and running, however, investors might actually cut out the whole waste treatment system or operate the system sporadically to save budget, putting the environment at severe risk,” he added.
In case of incidents, Halong Bay would be ‘poisoned’ and its ecology devastated, the senior expert said, urging the provincial authorities to make an informed and prudent judgement.