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Vietnam says recovery from Formosa industrial disaster could take a decade

Formosa deliberately skirted safety commitments, the Vietnamese government says.

Vietnam’s central region is expected to take a decade to completely recover from an industrial accident caused by a unit of a Taiwan conglomerate, which led to Vietnam’s worst ever environmental disaster, the government said.

Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a unit of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics that runs an $11 billion steel plant, sullied more than 200 km (125 miles) of coastline in April, killing more than 100 tons of fish and devastating the environment, jobs and economies of four provinces.

Responding this week to questions as part of a Reuters investigation in November, Vietnam’s environment ministry said the firm had rectified 50 of 53 violations and was on its way to removing the biggest cause of the disaster, a highly toxic “wet” coking system that Formosa had used in a deliberate violation of its agreement.

Vietnam says recovery from Formosa industrial disaster could take a decade

After months of mystery over the cause of the deaths of the fish, Formosa agreed in June to pay $500 million in compensation.

Illegal changes

The environment ministry said Formosa had disregarded a series of commitments it had made to the government in securing approval to build the plant, which once fully completed would be the largest steel facility in Southeast Asia.

“Formosa had deliberately changed many of the contents of the two environmental impacts assessment reports approved in 2008 including using ‘wet’ coking system instead of ‘dry’,” the ministry said a detailed response.

“These changes are illegal.”

Formosa did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on the environment ministry’s assessment.

Wet coking uses water for cooling and is considered more polluting, as it generates more emissions and waste water that contains compounds that include cyanide. The dry process is cleaner and widely used in modern plants, but is more costly.

The ministry said it had asked Formosa Ha Tinh to start work on introducing the dry system from the end of next month and it must complete the job by June 30, 2019, at the latest.

The environment in the area has seen some improvement and was expected to be fully restored within 10 years if sufficient rehabilitation work was carried out, it said. Toxicity levels in the sea were under control.

The ministry said it was relatively satisfied with the firm’s steps to fix the problems, but more needed to be done.

Formosa Ha Tinh Steel (FHS) executive vice president Chang Fu-ning said earlier that the plant was scheduled to begin full commercial production in the first quarter of 2017, subject to approval.

Formosa has planned to expand the steel plant to include a deepwater port and 1,500-megawatt thermal power complex.

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