Near Bien Hoa airport, I've met citizens anguished that they were not informed of dioxin dangers at the most contaminated spot in the world for 40 years.
Tran Thi Tuyet Hanh
Residents in the vicinity of the southern airport were not told what dioxin was, where it was located in the neighborhood and what they were supposed to do about it.
The Bien Hoa airport was where the U.NS.the military stored Agent Orange containing the deadly chemical dioxin, a defoliant they used during the Vietnam War.This airport is considered the most dioxin-contaminated point in the country and the world.
A resident here can be exposed to about 60.4 and 102.8 picogam (pg) of dioxin per kilogram of body weight per day if they consumed agricultural products grown in and around the airport.The WHO acceptable daily intake is 1-4pg per kg.
When I joined a program to help reduce the health-threatening impact of dioxins on food there in 2007, the reality shocked me.
By that time, many domestic and international studies have confirmed that Bien Hoa airport is a hot area contaminated with dioxin.However, when we randomly interviewed 400 locals, very few of them knew they were living in a contaminated area, and most of them didn't even know what dioxin was.
They also have absolutely no idea where it is in their surroundings, how the poison enters the human body, how it affects their health, or how to avoid its effects.They only show concern when they hear that someone has cancer, or a child has a birth defect.I once visited a family where five out of six children were born with birth defects.
After several media campaigns promoting dioxin exposure prevention, many local people expressed their gratitude.On the other hand, there were the elders who were appalled.
"Why is it that for more than 40 years, no one said anything to us?"
That question by a local man still haunts me.
He said his family has never been given any information, warnings or instructions by the authorities.They have unknowingly moved on with their lives for decades.He said many people still raise their livestock and eat and sell crabs, snails, and fish that they find in the contaminated area.
Then I realized that there was a huge gap in Vietnam's environmental health management.In developed countries, authorities and experts are responsible for assessing the impact of environmental, biological and physical risks on public health so that they can be well communicated and managed. risk.
Environmental health officers are stationed from central to local councils.
In Vietnam, this profession is still very new.
The bad becomes worse
In the case of Hanoi light bulb warehouse fire last week, the authorities have issued inconsistent statements regarding mercury leak from the incident.What they should be doing is assessing and reporting health and environmental risks in a timely manner to protect residents.
An environment official wears a face mask as he visits the burned Rang Dong light bulb warehouse in Hanoi, August 31, 2019.Photo: VnExpress / Gia Chinh.
On August 29, the Ha Dinh Ward People’s Committee issued a food contamination risk warning. However, the notice was retracted the next day because it was issued "without rightful authorization" and there was "insufficient evidence to support it."
Several announcements regarding the risk of the fire followed, but none of them addressed some core public concerns.
Contrast this with what happens in other countries.Take Australia as an example.If there is a fire at a plant, an environmental health professional will quickly assess the risk.He/she/they will test, for example, what materials, products, chemicals were in the plant before and after the fire, weather conditions including rainfall, temperature, humidity during and after the fire. fire, how dangerous chemicals are likely to spread, and the extent of their effects.
They will also consider the location of the plant and its distance from nearby residential areas.The characteristics of the surrounding population as well as the total number of workers - will be taken into account to provide an accurate estimate of the number of affected individuals and those at high risk.The specialist will also quickly assess the quality of the environment and record any initial acute symptoms.
Although it is not possible to assess the full risk initially, this preliminary information, combined with professional experience, allows immediate initial recommendations to be made to prevent exposure and reduce risk. and impact.
Scientific, accurate information is then conveyed in a professional and easy-to-understand manner.Spokespersons need to be open and honest about the uncertainties involved.This is very important to the public when an emergency occurs.
A non-negotiable principle in this work is that in the absence of an adequate risk assessment, no firm conclusion should be drawn that the site is "polluted-free", "safe for the public". them" or "worker safety".Usually, there will be unfinished work such as sampling soil, water, air, food, etc., so that the risks are calculated more accurately.This takes time and requires expertise and advanced equipment.
Authorities will need to monitor and update the public with specific and accurate information as more scientific evidence becomes available.They can only confirm safety to the public when there is enough evidence to back it up.
At times of environmental crisis or disaster, the situation can be complicated and the public can be shocked and panic.Therefore, authorities need to plan and coordinate drills in advance to prepare and implement effective crisis responses.
It is not wise to issue hasty, inconsistent announcements on the grounds of insufficient data.It exacerbated anxiety and suspicion among the population.
Risk communication should be a top priority for any government, from the commune level to the top.If it is done properly, based on scientific evidence and with a sense of responsibility, it will help to keep the public informed and fully aware of the crisis, as well as the appropriate solutions.It will also reduce the number of infections, casualties and ultimately avoid wasting scarce resources.
If this does not happen, space will be created for rumors, resentment and distrust.
*Tran Thi Tuyet Hanh is an environmental health lecturer at Hanoi University of Public Health.Opinions expressed are her own.
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