Up to 14 coal fired-power plants are set to be built in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta as part of Vietnam’s Power Development Plan (PDP). Nguyen Thi Ha looks at how the coal plants already operating in the delta area are affecting the health, salt and fish farms, and local livelihoods of thousands of communities living in the delta.
By 2020-2030, Vietnam is set to build up to 14 coal fired-power plants in the Mekong Delta as part of the country’s Power Development Plan (PDP). The large number of coal plants is raising fears among communities living in the delta area who are already facing impacts from existing plants on their health and livelihoods.
Data from the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) shows that the country’s coal-fired power plants are the largest emission source for carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) in the energy sector and the main contributor to air pollution in Vietnam.[1. GreenID. 2016. Synthesis Report: Socio-environmental Impacts of Coal and Coal-fired Power Plants in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City.] Among these pollutants, PM 2.5[2. Atmospheric particulate matter (PM) with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair.] is considered the most dangerous to people’s health due to their small size, they can penetrate deep into the lungs with long-term exposure potentially causing lung cancer.
The most serious impact is on human respiratory health with coal plant emissions responsible for a range of lung diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory tract infection and lung cancer.[3. Diep Vu. 2015. Assessment of coal-fired power plants and potential impacts in Vietnam.]
These pollutants that often fall like black soot from the sky also have deleterious impacts on ecosystems. Water pollution from coal includes negative effects from the mining, processing, burning, and waste storage of coal, including acid mine drainage, thermal pollution from coal plants, acid rain, and contamination of groundwater, streams, rivers, and seas from heavy metals and other toxins and pollutants from coal wastes. Deterioration of stream quality results from acid mine drainage releasing toxic elements and increased sediment loads.
“My family’s salt output was halved by smoke and dust from coal fired power plants along the coast. Usually, we can sell 30 tons of salt for 25 million VND (or approx. US$1,200 at today’s rates). However, pollution from the coal fired power plant including smoke and dust blackened the salt and prices fell to VND16-17 million for 30 tons,” said Ms. Ngo Thi Mong, a salt farmer in Mu U village, Dan Thanh commune in Duyen Hai district in the Mekong Delta.
Mr. Tran, a 51 year old fisher from Mu U village, Dan Thanh commune, Duyen Hai town in Tra Vinh Province said: “From the end of the year to January, when the northeast wind blows, coal dust from the coal-fired power plants enter and form dark layers of soot inside my house. We live by inhaling this polluted black air. Two of my grandchildren are suffering from breathing problems and pneumonia. My livelihood depends on the sea. If the water is polluted, my family will have to starve.”
In Tam Hung commune, which is the commune closest to the Hai Phong coal fired power plant, coal reserve piles are located only about 20 metres from the kindergarten and high school. A representative of the Tam Hung People’s Committee said that a large amount of coal dust is emitted towards the school children who are forced to breathe the black soot.
“My life depends on growing rice and catching fish. I have now lost most of my livelihood since the Duyen Hai I coal plant started operating [in 2015],” said Mr. Sau also from Duyen Hai town.
Most fisherman here have had to quite their job. People are afraid that the Duyen Hai I coal-fired power plant will destroy the sources of aquatic coastal shrimp and fish making people’s livelihoods more difficult. Especially, coal ash is a big problem in Duyen Hai. Currently, here is no treatment model.
During construction of Duyen Hai I in Tra Vinh Province, 26 million cubic metre (m3) sand was allocated for factories. The huge amount of sand mining has caused coastal erosion situation in Tra Vinh. Consequently, Tra Vinh has to spent hundreds of billions to cope with sea erosion but this is only temporary solution (Le Xuan Roanh and Pham Van Lap).[4. Lê Xuân Roanh, Phạm Văn Lập. Phân tích nguyên nhân sự cố vỡ đê bao công trình nhiệt điện Trà Vinh. Tạp chí Khoa học kỹ thuật thủy lợi và môi trường – số 44 (3/2014), pp. 23-27.]