Factories secretly dump wastewater into heavily polluted Ho Chi Minh City canal

The Ba Bo Canal has varied in color from murky to foamy since 2003

A section of the Ba Bo Canal that runs through Provincial Highway No. 43 in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City, is filled with white foam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Factories in Ho Chi Minh City and neighboring Binh Duong Province have secretly been dumping industrial wastewater into an already seriously contaminated canal, leaving local officials scratching their heads.

The heavily polluted Ba Bo Canal, which snakes along from Binh Duong Province, approximately 30km from Ho Chi Minh City, to the southern hub’s Thu Duc District, has been a serious issue for a decade.

The water’s condition has remained mostly unchanged despite a costly project to ‘clean’ the channel that began in 2008.

Representatives of relevant agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in Ho Chi Minh City, and neighboring Binh Duong Province, Corps No. 4 and developers of Song Than 1 and 2 Industrial Parks gathered on Friday last week to address the causes and come up with solutions.

The officials admitted that there was evidence of untreated wastewater being dumped though they had never been able to catch the perpetrators red-handed.   

Nearly VND1.1 trillion (US$52.9 million) has been spent in the last seven years building concrete embankments on the canal, a reservoir upstream to contain polluted water, a pumping unit, and a ‘biological’ lake to process polluted water before it is sent down the canal.

Song Than 1 and 2 Industrial Parks also have their own wastewater treatment plants.

The watercourse reeks of a foul odor at night and in the morning despite virtually no problems being detected during the day, Tran Van Tan, deputy chair of the Di An Town People’s Committee in Binh Duong, said.

Nguyen Hong Nguyen, deputy director of the Binh Duong Department of Natural Resources and Environment, suspected that factories had secretly been dumping untreated wastewater into the waterway under the cloak of darkness and during downpours.  

The department, however, has been unable to catch anyone in the act thus far.

The current overloading at Song Than 1 and 2’s treatment facilities and their failure to connect residential areas to the household wastewater treatment system are also to blame for the recurrent contamination, Nguyen added.

Since 2016, test results have found that the water in several parts of the canal still had levels of ammonium and ammonia up to almost twenty times the allowable level.

There were also times when the concentration of chemical oxygen demand (COD), an indicator of the amount of oxygen that can be consumed by reactions in a measured solution and an important measurement of water quality, was up to 5 times the legal limit.

According to observations made by the Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong Departments of Natural Resources and Environment, contamination sources into the Ba Bo Canal are many, including the two industrial parks, enterprises outside of the parks, Corps No.4, and household sewage discharged by residents.        

The officials thus called for joint efforts by local governments, business enterprises and residents.  

Solutions

Representatives of Dai Nam Joint Stock Co., the developer of several industrial parks and large residential areas, revealed that work was ongoing at the Song Than 2 park to raise the capacity of its wastewater treatment plant to 12,000 cubic meters per day and night in a bid to process the entire discharge from businesses at the industrial zone.

They also made a commitment to complete the capacity upgrade by year end.

A ‘biological’ treatment lake, aimed at alleviating pollution along the Ba Bo Canal, during a test run. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A ‘biological’ treatment lake, aimed at alleviating pollution along the Ba Bo Canal, during a test run. Photo: Tuoi Tre


The company also proposed the rezoning of the pipeline to pump treated wastewater directly into regulating reservoirs in Ho Chi Minh City instead of going through the different phases they do now.      

 

Meanwhile, representatives of the Corps No. 4 High Command, under the Ministry of National Defense, who are in charge of an expansive plot of land near the Ba Bo Canal, pointed out that the construction of the regulating reservoirs in the southern metropolis had accidentally blocked the drainage of wastewater from the plot.

 

The military unit pledged construction of two new sewerage systems in the reservoir would be completed by the end of October.

However, the unit had yet to receive the approximately VND600 million (US$ 26,067) needed for the construction from the ministry.

Tran Vinh Tuyen, deputy chair of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, decided during the meeting that the city would provide the military unit with the money. 

Thuan An Wastewater Treatment Plant, meant to filter household sewage before directing the treated water into the Ba Bo Canal, has been put into operation, according to Le Van Gon, deputy general director of the Water and Environment Joint Stock Co., which invests in wastewater treatment plants in Binh Duong. 

However, more efforts should be made to encourage residents to have their sewerage connected to this system. 

The Di An Household Wastewater Treatment Plant, scheduled to be put into operation by the end of 2018, will be capable of processing household sewerage within Di An Town, neighboring Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong. 

Thang, director of the southern metropolis’s environment department, said that a system will be put in place to handle effluent from households before it is released into the Ba Bo Canal in Binh Chieu Ward, Thu Duc District by December 2017, with a capacity to handle over 20,000 cubic meters per day and night.    

Total investment to renovate the canal and construct liquid waste treatment systems amounted to approximately VND10 trillion ($434 million), including the construction costs of effluent treatment plants incurred by industrial park developers and their lessees, Tuyen, the southern hub’s deputy chair, revealed.

The delegates signed a plan to step up collaboration in monitoring wastewater dumping and penalizing violations before the meeting wrapped up.  

Stretching over 1,700 meters, Ba Bo receives more than 25,000 cubic meters of wastewater every day.

Over the past decade, the canal has become seriously polluted, adversely affecting the lives of nearby residents.

The waterway gives off an unpleasant odor during the dry season, and the wastewater often mixes with rain to cause flooding in the area.

​In 2007, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee approved multiple projects to upgrade the channel, including dredging and expanding, with expenditures topping VND300 billion ($13.1 million).

Authorities in Binh Duong Province also invested in a system to collect and treat liquid waste to be dumped into the Ba Bo Canal.

The two authorities have spent approximately VND1.3 trillion ($57.1 million) renovating the channel.

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