Quảng Ninh is a province along the north-eastern coast of Vietnam. It is 153 kilometres east of the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. Nearly 80 per cent of the province is mountainous with an abundance of minerals. Almost 90 per cent of total coal output for Vietnam, comes from this province.
Other minerals found in this area are phosphorous, titan, antimony, quartz and oil, add these to the abundance of clay and white sand, it is easy to see where the pollution comes from.
During the summer of June 2019, experts warned that the environmental pollution in Ha Long Bay will fall into a "dangerous" level before the current industrial activities of Quang Ninh province could be curtailed.
The local media once again reported the reflection of people in the Cua Luc Bay area, belonging to the Ha Long Bay complex, who are “living in the dust” in the polluted environment by thermal power plants, cement plants and other coal movements that the domestic media used the word "surrounded" to describe.
Before that, in early April, people who were living around the quarry area in Dong Cao village, Thong Nhat commune, Hoanh Bo district, Quang Ninh province, complained that they had to live day and night with smoke, dust, noise, burning emissions and that the land was harder to cultivate. During the past 10 years, and especially in the summer days of June, the local press said that households in Hoanh Bo district were also exposed to haze from two cement plants and two thermal power plants Thang Long and Quang Ninh. At the same time, activities at coal ports on the banks of the Dien Vong River also affected the living environment of the local people in Cua Luc Bay.
Faced with the ongoing environmental pollution caused by industrial plants and coal mining activities in Quang Ninh, experts say that the natural environment of Ha Long Bay, twice recognised as a World Heritage site in 1994 and 2000 will be in "danger".
At the national level, the government has banned the use of imported used machinery and equipment that is more than 10 years old. This was a plausible move as used and outdated machinery is known to harm the environment further aggravating air pollution.
Apart from this, Vietnam will introduce a pilot carbon tax at specific factories in the four provinces of Quang Ninh, Thanh Hoa, Quang Nam, and Thua Thien Hue. The pilot will run from 2020 to the end of 2021 and the result of the pilot program may inspire a nationwide policy in 2022.
The government is working on a draft law which will lead to a tax on greenhouse gas emissions for companies in the steel, cement, electricity and chemical sectors. This includes a plan to reduce pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides by 20 per cent between 2020 and 2025.
Regulations to install emission treatment systems at industrial parks by 2025 are being considered, which would affect operations within the parks, and also increase costs for park operators and their tenants.
Burning organic residue after the harvest is a common occurrence in many parts of south-east Asia because it is an easy solution to the problem. It is believed that the resultant ash is good for the soil and will benefit next season’s crop. Weeds and other unwanted vegetation are also burned at the same time. However, the smoke from these fires drifts on the wind and pollutes towns and cities many kilometres from the origin. The smoke can cross country borders and end up in a foreign country.
There are other ways of dealing with the residue but it involves the use of machinery which is expensive to buy and maybe not always available. It may be something the government could look into by means of assisted purchases or subsidies.
The use of honeycomb charcoal as a form of energy used for cooking is surprisingly bad for air quality. It produces a large amount of black soot which dissipates into the atmosphere. It is popular because it is very efficient and very convenient. It is also cheap.
The authorities cited air pollution on the poor quality of air that had drifted over from the crop burning in Indonesia, which also affected Singapore. However, authorities later said there was not enough evidence to prove this was from Indonesia, and that it was more like that the pollution was due to low rain and farmers burning crops in Vietnam.
Vietnam has another problem, though. Over the past two decades, coal consumption has tripled and oil consumption has increased by more than 70 per cent. The situation isn’t likely to get better soon, as Vietnam depends on coal-fired plants for electricity. While solar power plants have come into operation, at present they do not match the capacity of coal-fired plants.
Most of the coal power plants are located in the north of the country where the coal is mined, contributing to Hanoi’s deteriorating air quality. In the south, high humidity combined with vehicular pollution and waste from industries results in smog, which commonly occurs between September and October as the weather starts to become cooler.
Experts say that stationary traffic with idling engines in metropolitan areas make an “urban canyon”, which are pockets of air pollution trapped by surrounding tall buildings. Rapid urbanisation has contributed to this, and the issue is likely to persist as the construction of residential buildings, shopping malls and office building continue to be built at an alarming rate.
The area of mangrove forests in the North of Cua Luc Bay area recorded in 2017 has decreased by nearly 160 hectares compared to 2013 and the quality of the forest is also confirmed by experts to be deteriorating due to the impact of the gradation fill.
A forestry expert working in the field of forest protection explained the important role of mangroves around the Halong Bay area.
Mangroves have the function of purifying air and water. If the forest is left untouched and combined with factories that discharge to the acceptable standards, it can balance itself out or nature itself can purify and balance the water and air. However, when it is imbalanced, and there are many reasons because forests are being destroyed, especially mangroves, so the air and water environment are remaining polluted and now there are many industrial factories and machinery which add to the pollution. Tourism and farming households in Ha Long Bay using chemicals and substances add to the general level of pollution. The environmental agencies are also lax and do not do much to control the situation.
When the air quality is poor, the dust in the environment is high, the first and most obvious influences are patients with existing respiratory diseases. The patient will find it harder to breathe, cough more, experience chest pressure and signs of exacerbation will appear.
Studies show that in times of extreme weather or high air pollution, the frequency of patients hospitalised for respiratory and cardiovascular causes increases accordingly. Therefore, we recommend that people with respiratory illnesses should not go out when it is not really necessary during times of heavy air pollution. If venturing outside is necessary then a good quality mask should be worn and the length of time exposed to the heavily polluted air should be kept to a minimum.
For patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it is necessary to adhere to and maintain daily medication as prescribed by the doctor.
There are two cement plants very close to the bay which are the Thăng Long Cement Joint-stock Company plant with capacity of 2.3 million tonnes per year and the Hạ Long Cement Joint-stock Company plant with an annual capacity of 2 million tonnes.
Hạ Long Bay was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. And these two plants are very close by in Hoành Bồ District. The dust and fume exhaust treatment systems of the plants meet current environmental regulations, but the dust they discharge has still worsened pollution in the protected area.
State authorities fined the plants in 2011 and 2018 VNĐ55 million and 290 million (US$2,375-12,500), respectively for discharges above the permitted levels.
In 2014, local authorities decided not to build any new thermal power plants or cement plants within a radius of 15km around the heritage area of Ha Long Bay.
On 8th September 2016, the provincial people’s committee sent a proposal to the ministry asking them to stop increasing the capacity of present plants and move planned plants further away from the city and from the Bay area. Both moves were designed to protect the natural landscapes of the UNESCO site.
A spokesman said that by 2030, all of the cement plants would be moved to more suitable places. Their current locations would be used to develop urban areas or environmentally friendly units.