The ministry’s experts have been conducting tests on fish samples taken daily from sea ports and aquaculture ponds in the four central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.
The department said the ratio of contamination among samples has reduced over time. In July, seven out of 27 fish samples (25.7%) were found to contain heavy metals, but the rate dropped to 1 out of 18 (5.5%) on August 19, three days before the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment announced the sea water in the region was safe for swimming and aquaculture.
The tests are part of the Health Ministry’s plan issued on July 11 on measures to cope with the serious environmental incidents caused by steel maker Formosa Ha Tinh.
Besides fresh seafood, those kept at cold storage were also tested for safety before selling. Unsafe seafood batches must be destroyed.
The plan also instructs relevant agencies to issue safety certificates for seafood caught beyond 20 nautical miles from the shore. For seafood caught within 20 nautical miles, relevant agencies must maintain close monitoring until their safety is proved. Products made from sea fish such as dried fish or fish sauce must be subject to strict food safety supervision.
The plan requires surveillance of sea water within three nautical miles from the shore, along with monitoring of air and underground water quality in areas around Formosa Ha Tinh, which discharged waste water to the sea that caused the mass fish deaths.
Under the plan, surveys will also be conducted to evaluate the incident’s impacts on local residents’ health. The serious environmental incident occurred in April when a large number of dead fish along the coast were first discovered in Ky Anh township, Ha Tinh province on April 6, then more fish died in Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, aquacultural farms reported 67 tonnes of dead fish while the volume of natural fish found dead was estimated at 100 tonnes.
Statistics showed that Ha Tinh’s total seafood output in the first six months of this year was down 16,000 tonnes year on year, while Quang Binh suffered a drop of 23,600 tonnes, Quang Tri 16,000 tonnes and Thua Thien-Hue 13,300 tonnes.
In late June, Formosa Ha Tinh accepted responsibility for the mass fish deaths. The pollution damaged about 400 hectares of coral and affected over 260,000 people who earn their living by working in sea-related activities.
The company pledged to compensate over VND11.5 trillion (US$500 million), which will be used to support local fishermen in changing their jobs and recover the polluted maritime environment. It also vowed to deal with shortcomings and limitations in waste and wastewater treatment.