Chemicals released into a river by a Chinese-owned banana farm near the Lao capital Vientiane killed over 300 kg of fish in November, prompting warnings by authorities to local villagers not to bathe or fish in the polluted stream, sources in the country say.
The release, which occurred between Nov. 7 and 9, has affected the villages of Taohai, Yai-nachalern, and Kua, which lie near the Ton river in the Sangthong district of Vientiane, sources said.
Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service, a district agriculture and forest department officer called the ban on use of water from the river a temporary measure pending an official investigation.
“Samples of the water and the dead fish have been taken for examination,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A temporary warning notice has been issued to the local people, telling them not to use the water or eat fish taken from the river. We will issue another notice once we know the results of the examination,” he said.
A large Chinese banana farm located between the capital Vientiane and neighboring Vientiane province has accepted responsibility for the damage and has signed an agreement with Sangthong district to restore the Ton by releasing nearly 100,000 baby fish into the river during the next three to five years, he said.
However, if the company again violates the law, this may void their government concession to operate the farm, he added.
“The use of chemicals is clearly regulated by the law,” he said.
Companies don't follow laws
Also speaking to RFA on condition she not be named, a Lao expert on foreign investments in Laos said the country’s government should consider as a priority the impact of foreign-owned concessions on local people, and that if a business is found to have broken the law, its permit should immediately be canceled.
“Foreign business owners who invest in our country often do not follow our laws or protect our environment,” she said. “And even if we give them two or three chances [to do better], they will often make the same mistakes.”
“The authorities should find more qualified investors,” she said.
Illnesses and deaths have long been reported among Lao workers exposed to chemicals on foreign-owned farms, with many suffering open sores, headaches, and dizzy spells, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Chemical run-off from farms has also polluted many of the country’s water sources, killing fish and other animals and leaving water from local rivers and streams unfit to drink, sources say.
Lao government orders began closing down the environmentally destructive farms in the country’s northern provinces in January 2017, with the ban shuttering the commercial operations when their contracts expire and forbidding new contracts from being signed.
Reported and translated for RFA’s Lao Service by Phouvong. Written in English by Richard Finney.