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Explosion Rocks Steel Plant in Central Vietnam That Caused Massive Toxic Spill

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Traffic jam on Phan Dang Luu street

Traffic jam on Phan Dang Luu street, Phu Nhuan district, Vietnam. Photo: Ngô Trung.

An explosion has occurred at Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s steel mill in central Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province, one day after the facility came online for the first time since causing a catastrophic toxic waste spill in April 2016.

The official Tuoi Tre News quoted vice-chairman of the Provincial People’s Committee Duong Tat Thang as saying the incident occurred at around 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday when congestion in the dust filter system of a lime kiln at the steel mill led to an increase in pressure, causing the blast.

“The incident didn’t result in any casualties and is not related to the operation of the blast furnace,” Thang said.

Tuoi Tre cited “terrified witnesses” who said they heard a loud noise and saw a large volume of smoke.

Reuters quoted Chang Fu-ning, an executive vice president of Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, as saying the explosion at the mill in the Vung Ang Economic Zone, in Ha Tinh’s Ky Anh district, was caused by the combustion of fine dust particles in the air as a result of an equipment malfunction.

“There was no fire, damage or casualties as a result,” he said, adding that test-runs are ongoing.

A statement from the Ha Tinh provincial government said Formosa had confirmed it would fix the problem and check equipment to ensure a safe test run within 15 days, Reuters reported.

The U.S. $11 billion steel plant began a six-month test-run on its No. 1 blast furnace and auxiliary facilities Monday after the government said Formosa had effectively rectified an April 2016 toxic waste spill that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces.

The environment ministry last month cleared Formosa to start testing its steel mill after conducting a three-day inspection of the plant and concluding that Formosa had addressed 52 out of 53 operating violations that led to the spill, polluting more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) of Vietnam’s coastline.

Formosa has voluntarily paid U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate coastal residents affected by the spill, but slow and uneven payout of the funds by the Vietnamese government has prompted protests that continue to be held more than a year later.

Environmental activist Nguyen Chi Tuyen told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that residents are even more concerned over Formosa’s operations after Tuesday’s blast, and want the company out of Vietnam.

“The state says [the blast was not a problem] because it is still determined to produce steel,” he said.

“I expect Formosa will create [environmental] problems, because the company uses outdated technology that is typically associated with risks and hazards … [Saying they] operate and produce steel safely does not mean they will be environmentally friendly.”

Full story:

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Copyright © 1998-2017, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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