Waste smuggling made easy in Vietnam

November 9, 2009
Imported industrial waste found at a port in Hai Phong City

Vietnam’s doors have been propped wide open for toxic waste smugglers by lax regulations and apathy, security officials told a meeting on Thursday.

The officials said Vietnam was a prime smuggling spot due to its 4,600 kilometer-land border, which includes around 60 border gates, and it’s 3,500 kilometers of coastline, which encompasses 49 seaports.

Officials at the meeting said traffickers therefore had a full palate of options to chose from when smuggling pollutants like industrial waste or toxic chemicals.

Nguyen Xuan Ly, head of the Environmental Police Department at the Ministry of Public Security, said his department had uncovered more than 2,500 cases of environmental pollution since 2008, including more than 200 cases related to the import and export of waste.

The department has forced the re-export of 325 tons of trash, 3,150 tons of plastic waste, more than 10,000 tons of steel scrap and nearly 6,200 tons of used batteries in such cases.

Ghost in the machine

The Dai Dong Commerce and Production Company in Binh Duong Province, which neighbors Ho Chi Minh City, has imported thousands of tons of toxic materials banned in Vietnam, said Ly. The company then resold the materials – expired paint, used lubricants and impure gasoline – as materials for production in the country, according to reports by the department.

As the government has yet to establish specific regulations guiding the import of used machinery, Ly said some businesses had recently imported equipment that could no longer be used in other countries to sell in Vietnam as scrap or to repair and use again.

The department once found Hai Phong-based steel maker Cuu Long-Vinashin importing old and damaged equipment from a more than 40-year-old thermal power plant in South Korea, including more than 4,000 liters of diesel oil that contained chemicals poisonous to people and the environment.

Secrets and lies

Ly told the meeting held in the northern port city of Hai Phong that importers often lied by saying that they had permits to use the waste for recycling or that their waste had been treated.

Some businesses wrote on their invoices that they were importing lead iron, but in fact they were shipping wasted lead from used batteries.

He said the businesses often listed their products as those exempt from customs checks. The problem was that importers and exporters were never caught when they lie, he said.

The fog of smuggling

Nguyen Duc Dang, head of Hai Phong environment police department, said another issue was that several environment protection rules were understood differently by different agencies and officials and that businesses used this as a way to interpret laws to their own advantage.

Ly’s deputy Luong Minh Thao said Vietnam didn’t have strong enough regulations to protect the environment and the various responsibilities of agencies involved had not been made clear.

Officials at the meeting asked the Ministry of Science and Technology issue set standards for machines, equipment and chemicals to be allowed for import.

Reported by Thai Son

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