The perpetrators, 60 percent of them foregin firms, pumped untreated waste into lakes, rivers and oceans with impunity.
Vietnamese enforcement agencies reported 50 illegal discharges of toxic waste this year, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
Nguyen The Dong, a senior ministry official, described the illicit dumping of toxic waste into Vietnam’s waterways as a particularly severe issue during a conference held in Hanoi on Wednesday.
He said businesses like the cement, steel, fertilizer, and mining industries had exploited natural resources and caused the majority of environmental incidents.
Vietnam Environment Administration is finalizing the procedures to penalize the polluters. Total outstanding fines are estimated at VND132 billion ($5.8 million).
According to the General Statistics Office (GSO), violations of the country’s environmental regulations were recorded at some 80 percent of industrial parks.
Foreign-invested firms accounted for 60 percent of companies caught discharging waste that exceeds the allowable standards, according to the GSO.
The National Center for Socio-Economic Information and Forecast recently delcared that environmental pollution has severely impeded Vietnam’s economic growth.
The center warned that pollution and natural disasters could cost the country about 0.6 percent of its annual gross domestic product between now and 2020.
1. The Formosa fish kill
The massive die-off of marine life along the central coast quickly emerged as the country’s worst environmental disaster to date.
Following a deliberate release of toxic chemicals at the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant on April 6, farmers and fisherman near the plant immediately reported losses.
In the days that followed, piles of dead fish washed up along 200 kilometers of coastline, in the provinces of Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue. And by the end of April, an estimated 115 tons of fish had piled up on central beaches.
On June 30, the government announced that the Taiwanese-owned steel plant was responsible for dumping toxic chemicals, including cyanide, phenols and iron hydroxide, into the ocean.
The $10.6-billion steel complex, owned by the Formosa Plastics Group, subsequently took responsibility for the resulting die-off and pledged to pay $500 million to clean up the pollution and compensate those affected.
The mass fish deaths have ravaged fisheries, disrupted lives and hampered tourism.
A government report issued in July found the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.
Nguyen Bich Lam, head of the General Statistics Office, blamed the disaster for dragging the country’s economic growth below 6 percent from January to September.
“The incident has badly affected the agricultural sector in general and the fishery industry in particular, dragging the gross domestic product down,” said Lam, adding that the spill would have a long-term impact.
2. The Thanh Hoa sugar disaster
Fish farmers in the northern province of Thanh Hoa took a major hit in May after pollution devastated fisheries anchored on the Buoi River.
“The fish looked fine, and then suddenly, they grew lethargic,” farmer Nguyen Van Giam, who lost around 500 tons of fish in less than a week, said. “At first just a smattering died, but then the entire stock was gone.”
News of the die-off broke on May 4 as the Buoi River turned a muddy blue and began emitting a foul odor.
Water and fish samples collected in Thach Thanh District showed industrial pollution had claimed over 18 tons of fish and affected at least 34 fish farming households.
At least three sugar plants in the neighboring province of Hoa Binh later came forward and admitted to having illegally discharged untreated wastewater into the river.
They agreed to compensate the affected farmers.
3. Corrosive chemical leak at alumina plant
On July 23, a pipeline full of sodium hydroxide burst at the Nhan Co Alumina Plant in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong.
Some 9.6 cubic meters of the corrosive chemical spilled into the surrounding environment, posing a serious threat to nearby residents.
The spill reportedly penetrated 600 square meters of surrounding soil before seeping into the nearby Dak Sao stream.
Local people say the stream turned abnormally opaque before filling with dead fish.
The plant’s management board described the incident as “unprecedented” and “uncontrollable.”
The Nhan Co plant has an estimated capacity of 600,000 tons of alumina per year and has been under construction since 2010 as part of a planned a bauxite and aluminum complex 300 kilometers northeast of Ho Chi Minh City.