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Widespread sale of cheap, toxic chemicals on social media in Vietnam

Widespread sale of cheap, toxic chemicals on social media in Vietnam

Thursday, July 11, 2024, 12:30 GMT+7
Widespread sale of cheap, toxic chemicals on social media in Vietnam
Cyanide is offered publicly in groups on social media in Vietnam. Photo: Phuong Quyen / Tuoi Tre

Highly toxic chemical compounds, including cyanide, are widely advertised for sale on social media, websites, and even e-commerce platforms in Vietnam.

A search for 'low-cost cyanide' yields dozens of website results.

A company offers 50-kilogram barrels of potassium cyanide, claiming the compound was imported from the U.S..

Its website says potassium cyanide is used to extract gold and other precious metals from ore.

The harmful compound is also offered on well-known e-commerce platforms.

Mclean 95 percent of sodium cyanoborohydride is sold on an e-commerce platform in jars of five, 25, and 100 grams. The product has no brand and its packaging features foreign words.

Reporters from Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reached out to a cyanide trader using a phone number found online. The trader claimed that his product was high quality, low cost, and available in limited quantities.

Besides cyanide, some e-commerce platforms also offer colorless and odorless rat poison which can immediately kill rats.

An e-commerce platform is selling 'extremely toxic rat poison' of unknown foreign origin for VND10,000 (US$0.40) per ampule. The product is a red liquid with labels in a foreign language but lacks information about its ingredients.

A doctor in Dong Nai Province, a neighbor of Ho Chi Minh City, voiced concerns over the management of poisonous compounds.

Chemist Tran Hong Con told Tuoi Tre that cyanide is classified as a top poison which can kill people even with small amounts.

Cyanide poisoning is incurable. A 50-kilogram person will die if they are exposed to an amount as little as a green pea.

Potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide which are put up for sale in the local market are extremely dangerous if people eat or inhale them.

Con proposed enhancing the management of such poisonous substances, in addition to arsenic, pesticide, and herbicide.

 

Doctor Nguyen Thi Thuy Ngan, deputy head of the ward of tropical diseases at Cho Ray Hospital, said the hospital had admitted some cyanide poisoning patients in critical condition.

Most of them had absorbed cyanide bought through websites.

Cyanide can come in the form of a colorless gas, liquid, or crystals, so victims find it hard to see it if it is mixed in food or water, Dr. Ngan added.

The risk is greater now as cyanide is sold online.

As a result, it is required to control unorthodox sources of chemical compounds on social media, e-commerce platforms, and websites.

When a poisoning case is reported, designated agencies need to trace the origin of the poison and heavily punish traders, Ngan suggested.

Lawyer Truong Hong Dien from the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association said cyanide is not on the list of banned products but on the list of industrial chemicals subject to conditional production and trading.

However, there are no prevailing regulations on the requirements for individuals and organizations to buy and use cyanide and those forcing sellers to check if buyers meet certain conditions to be allowed to buy cyanide.

These have led to the widespread trade of cyanide in the local market.

Dien proposed detailed regulations on the trade of cyanide. For example, buyers must meet certain requirements to buy and use the chemical.

Relevant agencies should regularly inspect and keep a close watch on the production and trade of cyanide and promptly handle those breaking safety rules, Dien added.

Many murder cases linked to cyanide

In December 2022, the People’s Court in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province, a neighbor of Ho Chi Minh City, sentenced a 21-year-old woman to life in prison for murdering her father with cyanide.

She was charged with murder, illegal trade of toxic substances, and property destruction.

She killed her father over a conflict by mixing cyanide into three bottles of fresh water. She later staged a fire to cover up her crime.

In July 2020, the People’s Court in Thai Binh Province, northern Vietnam handed down the death penalty on a woman for sending poisoned bubble tea to a love rival and killing the target’s co-worker instead.

She wanted to take her older cousin's life as she had been having an affair with the latter's husband.

She poisoned four cups of bubble tea with cyanide before sending them to the target's workplace but the co-worker drank one of the cups and collapsed.

Most recently, a woman named Nguyen Thi Hong Bich in Dong Nai Province was found to have attempted to kill four family members with cyanide, with three of them passing away.

Her acts were not uncovered until her 18-year-old nephew was hospitalized for poisoning.

She declared that she poisoned the boy because of a conflict with his mother, who is also her sister-in-law.

The boy has been discharged from hospital after half a month of treatment.

Bich admitted to police that she killed three other family members, including her husband, a seven-year-old child of her younger sister, and a 12-year-old child of her older brother, using cyanide, from October 2023 to June 2024.

A cyanide poisoning patient is under treatment. Photo: Supplied

A cyanide poisoning patient is under treatment. Photo: Supplied

Strict regulations needed

According to lawmaking National Assembly (NA) deputy Pham Van Hoa from southern Dong Thap Province, the oversight of chemical trade remains lax despite numerous tragic incidents.

The market is flooded with highly poisonous chemicals, requiring effective management solutions.

It is crucial for Vietnam to revise and enhance regulations concerning highly toxic substances.

In other countries, regulations limit the purchase of chemicals to laboratories and authorized companies.

Residents are required to obtain chemicals through eligible organizations and must provide detailed declarations even for small quantities.

Reinforcing inspections is crucial to reduce chemical smuggling, and penalties should be imposed on individuals and organizations that deliberately overlook violations, Hoa said.

NA deputy Pham Khanh Thu from Thai Binh Province said that cyanide trade is regulated by laws.

Despite this, she noted that current controls over cyanide trade activities are insufficient.

She proposed that the Ministry of Industry and Trade, particularly the Vietnam Chemicals Agency, along with other relevant agencies, strengthen their management practices in this regard.

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