Sickness, foul smell from bauxite mining mar Vietnam province

Locals are suffering from permanent inflammation, crops have been destroyed, and the air stinks in a town in central Vietnam as a result of bauxite mining.

Tuoi Tre News

Updated : 09/17/2014 09:48 GMT + 7

Locals are suffering from permanent inflammation, crops have been destroyed, and the air stinks in a town in central Vietnam as a result of bauxite mining.

All of these problems stem from the Tan Rai Bauxite-Aluminum Complex, which has extracted the soft mineral to produce aluminum for two years in Lam Dong Province, located in the Central Highlands.

Living conditions in the area have been severely degraded over the last six months due to the serious pollution.

The affected area covers four administrative units, 21, 22, 23, and 24, of Loc Thang Town in Bao Lam District, where hundreds of families live. The local underground water source has also been contaminated.

Nguyen Van Dai, head of Unit 23, said, “We locals have lived here for over 20 years, but have never experienced a situation like this.

“It’s hard to live here. How can we survive when we don’t dare to even breathe and drink water?” Dai said angrily.

In addition, the area he describes as “hard to live” has been plagued with foul smells, especially when the alumina plant inside the complex emits smoke and waste.


Many of the affected families have moved to rented houses on coffee farms to ‘flee’ the bad smells and pollution caused by the bauxite complex. Others are mulling evacuation.

Dong Hoa Khoa, a member of the chemical testing department at the bauxite complex, said his 15 month-old daughter has suffered from respiratory problems for most of her short life, and has visited doctors regularly.

“She is fine after moving to another area for a couple of days, but returns to similar symptoms once she gets home,” he said.

Khoa’s parents cough all day.

His house is just 20 meters from the lake that contains red mud discharged from the bauxite complex.

“When the complex releases red mud, people in my family hold their breath because of the bad smell flowing into the house,” he said.

Neighbors suffer from the same problems, he added.

Hoang Thi Canh, a resident of Unit 23, said she has vomited because of the foul smell. Her house is close to the red mud lake, and just 200 meters from the bauxite kiln.

“Whenever the kiln releases smoke, tiny specks of white dust cover my house and farm. Dust lands on the roof and the tree leaves.

“It is very irritating if any gets in your eyes,” Canh added.

The roof of the house of another local, Tran Thi Hien, is permanently covered in a layer of white dust, even though her house is 500 meters from the main gate of the alumina factory.

Every member of her family has suffered chronic inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane.

The underground water in the area has also been contaminated, so locals have to carry water home from three kilometers away for daily use.

The bauxite complex has three outlets to release wastewater into nearby lakes. In addition, wastewater from the plant has overflowed into local streets and farms after heavy rains.

Fish kept in local lakes have died and crops have begun to fade after a night due to the wastewater.

Environmental police in Bao Lam District confirmed that the pH density, a measure of acidity or basicity, of the soil has reached seven degrees – unfavorable for plant growth.

In the lakes which contain red mud, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters saw that the material which is spread around their edges to prevent chemicals from filtering into soil were torn in many places.

Once the discharged chemicals leak into the environment, they become sodium hydroxide, which causes erosion, according to an engineer at the bauxite complex.

Thus, any farm that suffered from leaked chemicals and red mud has been left uncultivated for years.

The safety of the red mud retaining ponds has not been assured, confirmed Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Trung, head of the Bao Lam District environment police department.

Denial of responsibility

Regardless of the consequences, the management of the bauxite complex has insisted that they comply with regulations, and their work is not harmful to the environment.

Le Hong Truong, deputy general director of Lam Dong Aluminum Company, which manages the Tan Rai bauxite complex, said the exploitation of bauxite and the production of aluminum have caused no damage to the environment.

“Locals may feel uncomfortable with the bad smell, but it is not worth worrying over,” Truong argued.

He fended off accusations by saying that the bauxite complex has been inspected regularly by a company from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment of Lam Dong Province, and that the environment agency has confirmed its safety.

However, Tran Thi Thuy Duong – director of the said company – argued that her agency is contracted to measure pollution and check safety inside the complex, not the living environment outside.