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Hanoi demands urgent relocation of light bulb company after mercury leak

Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 14:47 GMT+7
Hanoi demands urgent relocation of light bulb company after mercury leak
A man covers his face as he rides past the remains of the Rang Dong Company in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi, which was ravaged in a fire on August 28, 2019. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

The administration of Hanoi on Tuesday urgently requested that a local light bulb manufacturer be moved to a new location away from residential areas, after a fire at its warehouses last month caused a large amount of harmful mercury to be released into the environment.

A six-hour inferno gutted the Rang Dong Light Source & Vacuum Flask JSC in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi on August 28, obliterating approximately 6,000 square meters of the firm’s warehouses.

Between 15.1 and 27.2 kilograms of liquid mercury used in the production of fluorescent bulbs is estimated to have vaporized and released into the environment together with smoke and other emissions, the Vietnam Environment Administration said in a report after conducting field inspections and working with Rang Dong representatives.

If inhaled, mercury vapor can cause symptoms including headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fever, shortness of breath, numbness in the limbs and chest tightness, according to health experts consulted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

A soldier collects water samples near the Rang Dong Company in Hanoi, Vietnam for testing. Photo: People's Army of Vietnam

A soldier collects water samples near the Rang Dong Company in Hanoi, Vietnam for testing. Photo: People's Army of Vietnam

In an urgent dispatch signed by chairman Nguyen Duc Chung on Tuesday, the administration of Hanoi sought to impose measures to remedy the impacts of the mercury leak on local citizens.

Among the measures is promptly moving the Rang Dong factory complex - currently sitting among a crowded residential area in Thanh Xuan District - to a new location away from any neighborhood.

Hanoi police, which are still collecting samples from the remains of the fire for investigation, must swiftly hand the site over to Rang Dong when they are finished so that the bulb manufacturer could start collecting and handling any harmful waste left by the conflagration, the municipal administration asks.

A woman living near the Rang Dong Company in Hanoi cleanses her household utensils after a fire on August 28, 2019 that caused up to 27.2 kilograms of mercury from the company's warehouses to be released into the environment. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

A woman living near the Rang Dong Company in Hanoi cleanses her household utensils after a fire on August 28, 2019 that caused up to 27.2 kilograms of mercury from the company's warehouses to be released into the environment. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

Rang Dong is responsible for contracting third-party service providers to handle these wastes, it added.

The Chemical Arm Command of the People’s Army of Vietnam is also tasked with immediately disinfecting the entire fire site and its vicinity to ensure the safety of local residents.

The municipal health department and the administration of Thanh Xuan District are to work together to provide free medical examinations for kindergarten children and teachers in Ha Dinh and Thanh Xuan Trung Communes of the urban district.

So far, no residents in the affected area have been found with mercury levels in their blood exceeding the safety limit of 10 mcg/L, according to Hanoi health department director Nguyen Khac Hien.

“We will continue to monitor residents’ health until the municipal Department of Natural Resources and Environment says the area is safe again,” Hien said.

An aerial view of the Rang Dong factory and warehouse complex in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

An aerial view of the Rang Dong factory and warehouse complex in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

Last week, Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Vo Tuan Nhan said mercury levels recorded in the air and surface water in some areas within a one-kilometer radius from the fire site were 10-30 times the safety limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

He was citing readings from monitoring stations installed across the capital city, adding that such levels are harmful to human health.

The Vietnam Environment Administration has advised residents living in a 500-meter radius from the fire scene to cleanse their homes, refrain from drinking water stored in open-air tanks, and go to the hospital if symptoms of mercury poisoning occur.

Those living 200 meters from the burned Rang Dong warehouses should seek regular medical exams regardless of whether they notice any adverse health effects, it added.

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