Vietnam Government Comes Clean on Toxic Waste: Formosa to Blame

The government of Vietnam has at last announced the results of an investigation into a massive fish-kill in the central coastal provinces.

The fish-kill was caused by toxic pollutants released from a steel-mill owned by Taiwan-based industrial conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group.

The announcement was made late afternoon Thursday June 30.

Citizens have long known the steel-mill in Ha Tinh Province was responsible for the disaster, but the government, who didn’t respond to the environmental emergency for the first two weeks after dead fish started to appear on beaches, have refused to acknowledge the culprit.

The government’s inaction, along with callous remarks by a Formosa executive incited protests starting May 1. Despite brutal repression which saw people beaten and arrested by police, protests occurred on successive Sundays in Cities and provinces around the country.

Formosa Group's Ha Tinh Steel-mill
The steel plant at the center of an environmental disaster that saw massive fish deaths and economic disruption across coastal provinces in central Vietnam starting in early April 2016

The communist party government of Vietnam attempted to prevent protests by putting hundreds of activists under house arrest, and by blocking access to social media sites such as Facebook, but protests occurred again for a third week.

The announcement today admitted that the steel-mill had released toxic chemicals through a waste-water pipe that extends 1.5 kilometers into the ocean. The chemicals included phenol and cyanide, and were carried by ocean currents, causing 200 kilometer tide that destroyed marine life, affecting the livelihoods of thousands of people.

A Formosa Plastic Group executive made a formal apology via a recorded video that was played at the June 30 meeting. The executive blamed sub-contractors to the plant for the mistake, but said that his company will take responsibility and compensate those affected. The company pledged US$500 million in compensation. Some media outlets reported it was a US$500 million dollar fine imposed by the Vietnamese government.

Employees and subcontractors at the Ha Tinh steel plant were put on leave June 29. The plant was due to go into full production late June. It is not known when operations will begin.

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