Toxic Floods From Coal Mines and Power Plants Hit Vietnam's Ha Long Bay World Heritage Site
Ongoing downpours in northeastern Vietnam have resulted in toxic spills and flooding from multiple coal mine and power plant sites in the province surrounding the Ha Long Bay World Heritage Site.
“The likelihood of both immediate and ongoing health and environmental hazards for locals and the rare environment are clearly increasing by the hour and the scale of this event cannot be understated,” said Donna Lisenby, Clean and Safe Energy campaign manager for Waterkeeper Alliance.
The events of the last few days appear to be getting worse with news reports of severe flooding inundating the Lang Khanh harbor area and Dien Vong river with fresh leakages from the Quang Ninh coal-fired power plant. This coal plant is located on the waterfront that connects directly to world renowned Ha Long Bay world heritage site (see this map).
“A disaster response team from the government has been deployed which is encouraging but we are deeply concerned by the pace of this unfolding disaster and its sheer scale,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance.
Ha Long Bay is surrounded by 5,736 hectares of open pit coal mines and three coal-fired power plants. They are already flooded with more rain predicted for the next seven days.
“We again urge the Government and encourage UNESCO, and the international community to get involved and protect Ha Long Bay from further pollution by coal mines and coal-fired power plants,” said Kennedy. “We need to see all parties acting decisively to protect the growing number of local communities and this pristine World Heritage Site that are facing clear and present danger.”
“Waterkeeper Alliance knows from firsthand experience around the world that coal mining and generation sites are ‘monster waste generators’ of the worst kind,” said Lisenby. “These coal waste facilities are ticking time bombs if they are not properly constructed to withstand large rainfall events, which are already increasing in frequency, duration and intensity in line with climate science predictions."
The coal industry generates massive amounts of waste that can contain a wide array of materials dangerous to human health and the environment including heavy metals like arsenic, boron, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, selenium and thallium.
Dr. Aaron Bernstein, instructor in pediatrics at Harvard University Medical School said:
"Floodwaters flowing from open pit coal mines likely contain a slurry of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium and lead, as well as other harmful substances. We also know from past research that the soils in this region of Vietnam may be contaminated with these same pollutants, which may be mobilized by floods as we saw in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. So, in addition to the usual harms that may immediately follow severe flooding such as traumatic injuries, outbreaks of waterborne disease, or death, the floods around Quang Ninh carry the potential to exact permanent damage to the developing nervous systems of children which are uniquely vulnerable to these toxic elements."
Cam Pha City has already been flooded with an avalanche of coal mining waste and a second community is being evacuated (see map here). News photos and video footage from Cam Pha show men, women and children wading through thick mud contaminated with coal waste as they flee their homes.
Waterkeeper Alliance has experienced a dramatic rise in the number of coal-related water spill disasters we have responded to since 2008. These include:
- The largest known coal ash waste spill in world history in December of 2008 from the Tennessee Valley Authority coal plant in Kingston, Tennessee. See this story for an interview with Donna Lisenby, Waterkeeper Alliance's Clean & Safe Energy campaign manger who was the first person to collect samples at the spill proving that it contaminated the Emory river with toxic heavy metals.
- The largest coal slurry spill in Canadian history on Halloween night in 2013. See stories here, here and here written by Waterkeeper Alliance Clean Safe Energy campaign manager.
- A January 2014 coal chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia that poisoned the drinking water of 300,000 people. See story here.
- The largest coal ash spill in North Carolina history by Duke Energy into the Dan River in February of 2014. See stories here, here, here and here that document Waterkeeper Alliance's response to that spill and all the toxins found as a result of our water testing. The Dan River spill and ongoing investigation by Waterkeeper Alliance into illegal coal water pollution by Duke Energy at other sites in North Carolina resulted in their criminal conviction for nine clean water act violations.
- This is a story about how Waterkeeper Alliance responds when disasters like these strike.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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