Hong Kong paper mill gives rise to pollution fears in southern Vietnam

The Lee & Man Paper mill's proximity to the Hau River could spell disaster for the local environment

A section of the wastewater treatment system at the Lee & Man paper mill is seen in Hau Giang Province, located in southern Vietnam.

A Hong Kong-invested paper making complex in the southern Vietnamese province of Hau Giang has sparked concern over the possible dangers it poses to the local environment, particularly the Hau River, one of the most important waterways in the region.

The controversial paper mill, operated by Lee & Man Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Hong Kong’s Lee & Man Paper, has a total investment capital of US$628.7 million.

The facility is located by the Hau River in Chau Thanh District and features a specialized port with three loading quays capable of receiving 10,000-ton ships.

Though investment plans required the plant to begin operation just 14 months after the sod-turning ceremony in August 2007, production there was delayed for nearly a decade before the developer recently announced that it will enter a month-long trial run this July and launch full-scale activities in August.

The mill’s proximity to the Hau River has local residents and experts claiming that it poses a threat to the local ecosystem and environment, especially considering that the paper making industry is regarded as a more reckless polluter than its mining counterpart due to the large number of chemicals involved in the production process.

The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) even lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc calling for a careful consideration over the planned operation of the plant.

Misguided fear

On Thursday, Lee & Man Co. held a press conference defending itself against allegations that their plant would pose environmental threats, stating that these fears “stemmed from misunderstanding.”

Chung Wai Fu, general director of Lee & Man Vietnam, asserted that the Hau Giang facility is no different from the company’s operational mills currently producing paper in several Chinese provinces, including Guangdong, Guangix, and Jiangsu.

Chung underlined that the plant in Hau Giang has a wastewater treatment system with a 20,000 cubic meter daily capacity that subjects waste substances to nine different treating stages in order to meet environmental standards before being released, the executive added.

Chung Wai Fu speaks to reporters in Hau Giang on June 23, 2016. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Chung Wai Fu speaks to reporters in Hau Giang on June 23, 2016. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Once in operation, the plant will have its wastewater treatment system connected to a monitoring system at the Hau Giang environment department and another with the environmental watchdog under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for supervision, Chung added.

The executive underlined that the wastewater treatment system will be in place 24/7 and the company welcomes all competent agencies to collect water samples for testing.

Chung also guaranteed that the paper mill will never use sodium hydroxide, a polluting agent, in order to avoid polluting local environment.

When asked what alternative chemicals the plant will use, Chung seemed to dodge the answer, saying Lee & Man will use whatever substances other paper mills in Vietnam are using.

As the plant has yet to come on stream, according to Chung, there is no data as to what kind of chemicals will be used and their possible environmental impacts.

When Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper asked Chung to comment on the recent complaint by the VASEP, he said the firm welcomes all associations to visit its facility for first-hand experience of its wastewater treatment capacity.

The company will give explanations to reassure concerns, repeating that the pollution fears are only mistakes.

As per the Vietnamese law, a project is required to have its environmental impact assessed every two years.

Lee & Man completed an environmental impact assessment for the paper mill in 2008 and has yet to submit a new assessment for re-approval.

Addressing the issue, Chung said the company is taking steps to complete the new assessment report.

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