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Health and Safety Goes Down the Drain as Carcinogens Enter the Capital's Water Supply

Following days of oily, pungent water coming out of taps across southeast Hanoi, officials confirmed this week that styrene, a carcinogenic substance, has entered the water supply.

Last Thursday, residents in Thanh Xuan, Hoang Mai, Cau Giay and Ha Dong districts faced polluted water supplies. Many reported a smell similar to burning plastic coming from their taps and turned to bottled water in frustration, Straits Times reports.

According to VnExpress, the smell began appearing after a 2.5-ton truck dumped oil into the Da River, just a few hours from Hanoi, which the water utility company Viwasupco uses as a supply source.

Viwasupco is responsible for processing water in the area before sending supplies to southeast Hanoi, and was reportedly aware of the problem, yet continued to supply water to the capital anyway.

According to Hoang Van Thuc, deputy head of the Vietnam Environment Administration, the polluters committed a "serious and irresponsible act of vandalism.”

Earlier this week, Hanoi chairman Nguyen Duc Chung confirmed that the company's water is contaminated, with tests showing styrene levels in the water to be nearly four times higher than normal in some cases.

The World Health Organization states that exposure to styrene vapor causes irritation of the eyes, skin, respiratory tract and central nervous system, while evidence of carcinogenicity has also been observed.

As of yesterday, the offending polluted water was still flowing into Viwasupco’s water treatment area. The company cut its water supply to Hanoi yesterday, then reopened it today despite not knowing if the water is safe.

"We have re-supplied water normally. Whether the water is safe enough or not, Hanoi's Department of Health and scientists will make an announcement," company director Nguyen Huu Toi said.

With Hanoi’s air pollution levels recently reaching their worst in five years and mercury poisoning fears growing after a fire in Rang Dong light bulb warehouse, it’s been a particularly rough period for pollution in the capital.

[Photo via Creative Commons]