Soil contamination, which is almost undetectable without special equipment, is believed to be a leading cause behind many health problems in Vietnam, including cancer, headaches, inflammation, and coughing.
It is said that a young person dies of cancer caused by pollution every month in Vinh Loc B Ward of Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Chanh District, according to a local resident.
Most land in Vinh Loc A and B is used for farming or garment factories which release pesticides, chemical fertilizers, cleaning chemicals, smoke, and foul odors into the environment.
Even more worryingly, the industrial toxic waste discharged by the factories has been absorbed into the soil and underground water, causing long-term contamination.
These discharges are believed to have caused cancer and chronic diseases such as coughing, lung inflammation, dizziness, and stomach problems.
Visible, but ignored, consequences
Seven years ago, Pham Huu Dong moved his family from the central region to Hoc Mon District in Ho Chi Minh City to farm in Dong Thanh Hamlet.
Last year his wife, Nguyen Thi Lan, was diagnosed with second-stage breast cancer.
Doctors also warned that his whole family was at risk of cancer or other symptoms due to their regular contact with toxic chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers, and cleaning chemicals.
“I couldn’t imagine that the chemicals had been absorbed into the soil, causing health problems for my family,” Dong said.
Another farmer in Dong Thanh, Le Thi Ly, added that she once passed out after breathing chemicals that escaped from the soil while she was cultivating vegetables on her land.
“I felt dizzy for a while and fell down,” she said. “Several days earlier I had sprayed pesticides on my farm. The toxins were absorbed into the soil and vaporized under sunlight.
“My eyes stung before I collapsed.”
In the north, the village of Phong Khe in Bac Ninh City which is the capital of Bac Ninh Province, has led the area in soil contamination due to the discharge of waste and chemicals into the soil by local paper factories.
Dozens of hectares of local rice fields have been seriously polluted and left barren for ten years because no plants except bushes can grow there.
Nguyen Nhu Phap, a local resident, pointed out that the local Ngu Huyen Khe River is now ‘decorated’ with water of different colors that gives off a foul smell.
“All year round, adults here suffer headaches, lung inflammation and cancer, especially stomach cancer, while children have terrible coughs,” Phap said.
A similar situation can be found in Binh Da Ward of Bien Hoa City in the southern province of Dong Nai, which has hosted numerous industrial parks for decades, including the Bien Hoa 1 and 2.
Local women even suffer miscarriages reckoned to be caused by pollution in the area, which features a foul odor and black water discharged from local factories.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the residential areas of Tan Phu Trung, Le Minh Xuan, Tan Tao, and Vinh Loc, all located near industrial parks, are also considered ‘hot spots’ of pollution.
Tran Minh Thanh, a resident of Vinh Loc B Ward in Binh Chanh, said, “We breathe air that has a strong chemical smell thanks to the textile and dying factories every day.
“In the past few people got sick. Now, I hear about deaths caused by cancer every month.”
Bui Cach Tuyen, Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, noted that soil contamination is difficult to identify using a person’s standard senses, and the consequences only ‘explode’ after a sustained period of waste discharge.
This is why soil pollution remains little-discussed, even though it was first mentioned in Vietnam 20 years ago, he added. Developed nations have endured expensive lessons over their ignorance of this type of pollution.
A recent survey by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment of Ho Chi Minh City shows that industrial parks in the city discharge 6,700 tons of solid waste a day, nearly 2,000 tons of which are industrial toxins.
The Dong Nai River, which runs through Dong Nai Province and Ho Chi Minh City and supplies water for water processing plants in both areas, now has 114 industrial parks built along its banks.
But only 79 out of the 114 parks have waste treatment facilities, while the remainder is discharged directly into the river.
In addition, of the 10 million tons of chemical fertilizers used every year, half of this amount gets directly absorbed into the soil. On average, farmers use 100-150 liters of pesticides per hectare of farm land a year, half of which filters into the soil.
Dr. Lam Phuong Nam, of the Ho Chi Minh City Medicine University Hospital, said that around 80 percent of cancer cases in Vietnam are caused by the environment, and only ten percent by genetic mutations.