Vietnam: Don't eat fish caught off Vietnam's central coast, say health authorities

An Hong Vietnam Express 28 Aug 16;

Catches may still contain poisonous chemicals.

Vietnamese food safety authorities have warned against eating seafood caught off the coast of the four central provinces affected by the environmental disaster caused by the Vietnam unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group.

The Vietnamese government announced on June 30 that the Taiwan-owned steel firm Formosa was responsible for discharging toxic chemicals into the ocean, killing marine life and poisoning fish in four central provinces.

Nearly three month after the announcement, Minister of the Environment Tran Hong Ha said last week that it’s now safe to swim in the affected provinces and that fish farming could resume in most areas.

However, the big question that remains unanswered is whether it is safe to eat fish caught within 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) off the coast of the four provinces.

Thorough research and strict supervision by the Ministry of Health are needed to make sure it is safe to eat fish caught off the central coast, Nguyen Thanh Phong, the director of the ministry's Food Safety Department, has said.

He added that the Health Ministry, supported by a team of experts and scientists, is set to make its final conclusion by early September.

“We need time to make a full assessment which requires enough statistical samples and a larger sample size. We can’t rush this,” Phong said, adding that he hoped the results will confirm the government’s announcement last week that chemicals, including cyanide, have been diluted.

“As the Prime Minister has said, the number one concern is the people’s wellbeing. That’s why we have to wait for a more detailed report before we can answer whether it is now safe to eat the seafood,” Phong continued.

The senior food safety official strongly warned the public to refrain from eating fish in the affected areas until the pollution has been cleaned up.

Even though the government may have managed to mitigate the consequences by bringing down the concentration of harmful chemicals in the sea water to acceptable levels, that doesn’t mean it is already safe to eat fish, Phong said.

He explained that harmful chemicals in the sea water may have fallen, but residue can still be found in the seafood.

At a conference last week, Mai Trong Nha, who led a team of Vietnamese and foreign scientists to study the consequences of the toxic disaster, said that marine life, including sea water and sea-bed sediment, is generally within safety standards for aquaculture farming, fishing and tourism activities.

He also told the conference that the toxic chemicals the steel factory dumped into the sea, including cyanide, phenols and iron hydroxide, have shown signs of waning.

The marine ecosystem, coral reefs, sea grass and other marine resources which were seriously damaged in terms of scale and species has begun to recover.

However, since then the media has reported chemical residue still present in fish caught offshore.

The steel plant, owned by the Formosa Plastics Group, took responsibility for the disaster in June and pledged to pay $500 million to clean up the pollution and compensate those affected.

The mass fish deaths have ravaged local fisheries, disrupted people’s lives and hit tourism in the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien – Hue.

The government said in a report in July that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.

An estimated 115 tons of fish washed up ashore along more than 200 kilometers of the central coast in April, the report said.

Formosa Plastics’ $10.6 billion steel complex in Ha Tinh province includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port.

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