HCM CITY — The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will revoke the licences of titanium mining businesses found violating legal regulations and contaminating the environment, the ministry leader has said.
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Pham Khoi Nguyen said that ministerial inspectors had made frequent inspections and punished violators of regulations on titanium mining operations.
He said projects on titanium mining were required to have an environmental impact report, and seek permission for mining from authorised agencies.
Local governments are responsible for monitoring the implementation of mineral exploitation projects.
Local authorities have been told to promptly identify businesses ineligible to tap titanium and those violating requirements set by the environmental impact report or polluting the environment.
Titanium-ore exploiting facilities have left many villages in the central coastal provinces of Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Binh Dinh barren when forests of decades-old casuarina on sandy land have been destroyed, which led to the loss of the screen to protect villages from storms.
Mining titanium has also devastated the floral carpet, depleted underground water sources, and created sandy mountains looking like uneven scars along the coastline.
In Quang Tri Province, titanium has been mined in Vinh Linh District’s Tan Hoa and Tan Thuan villages, Gio Linh District’s Cang Giang, Thuy Ban and Gio My villages.
The mining area has now been expanded to Tham Khe village in Hai Lang District.
Despite petitions sent by local people to authorities from the grassroots to central level, a workshop owned by titanium ore miner Hieu Giang Co Ltd has been built to the west of the village, with hundreds of screw-shaped drillers in place.
Villager Tran Ngoc Trai said that recent TV reports had shown the aftermath of the titanium mining in Binh Dinh and Phu Yen provinces.
He cited a survey by local villagers in Vinh Linh and Gio Linh districts which found that groundwater levels in Gio Linh are at risk of depletion.
The survey discovered that land had been left deserted, and water sources in Vinh Linh District were threatened with saline intrusion.
He said he could not understand why titanium exploitation was still permitted despite repeated protests from local residents.
Hundreds of villagers protested the project in 2006 when the Hieu Giang company conducted the first survey.
Although the second survey met with stronger reactions from villagers, Trai said a decision issued by the provincial People’s Committee on July 1, 2008 allowed Hieu Giang Co to lease 10ha of land for titanium exploitation.
A source familiar with the project said that after the first 10ha of leased land has been mined for titanium, and the site returned to its original conditions, another 10ha will be leased under an approved mining master plan, covering 138ha in Tham Khe village and parts of Hai Duong Commune.
Last year, however, 200 local villagers signed a petition, protesting the decision while earlier a letter of complaint had been sent to relevant authorities.
Van Tien Thuan, a Tham Khe villager, said: “Titanium can earn money, but it is our grandchildren who will suffer the environmental impact.”
With titanium exploitation begun in 2008, vast swathes of half-a-century-old poplar forests in Trung Tan village in Quang Binh Province’s Le Thuy District have been cut down, sending sand flying around and lowering groundwater levels, which has harmed the daily lives of local people.
Le Xuan Luan, a resident in Trung Tan village, said that the loss of poplar forests acting as a shield to protect the village has dried out hills and caused sand from the mines to fill up irrigation canals.
Nguyen Van Hieu, chairman of Sen Thuy Commune People’s Committee, said that he feared future generations would bear the brunt of the consequences of current titanium mining, as forests have been lost and the environment degraded.
Though exploited land has been returned to the previous state and trees replanted, depleted underground water has killed most trees while the few remaining are stunted, a local official said.
He said while waiting for the trees to regrow into a forest, local residents would have to face sand storms, sandy rice fields and gardens.
Binh Dinh Province is now home to nine titanium ore mines, with a total reserve of 10 million tonnes.
The province has thus far licensed 23 businesses to exploit titanium on an area of 2,200ha, at a designed capacity of 701,000 tonnes a year.
Lax management of mining operations has led to businesses seeking short-term profits while ignoring environmental protection rules, which has polluted water sources, damaged farmland, and destroyed the landscape and ecosystem. —VNS