More than 400 families in two villages in Long district of northern Laos’ Luang Namtha province are being increasingly affected by a cassava-processing plant operated by a Lao-Chinese company that releases pollutants into a nearby stream on which they depend for water, a local resident said.
The plant owned by Jupaoyan Cassava Processing Co., Ltd. turns the edible, starchy, tuberous root into biofuel for power generation.
But the effluent it releases has polluted a stream used by the residents of Phonesamphan and Taohom villages, said the villager who declined to be named.
“The plant drains debris and water into a stream that villagers rely on, and no one dares bathe in the stream,” he said.
The operators of the plant, which was built in 2002, have created small ponds to hold the polluted water, but they continue to release the effluent into the stream, he told RFA’s Lao Service.
“In addition, in the rainy reason the water will burst the banks of the ponds three to four times a year,” he said.
“In the past, officials from the district’s natural resources and environment office used to come to test water, but after that the problem was not addressed,” the villager said. “Now there are no fish in the stream.”
No one answered the phone when RFA contacted Jupaoyan Cassava Processing Co on Monday.
Resolving the problem
Long district officials say they and the operators of the plant are looking for a new way to begin handling the effluent starting this month.
“We will resolve the problems as soon as possible,” District Governor Phommasouk Vilaykhoun told RFA.
“On Monday, a district government official had a meeting at the company and signed a memorandum of understanding in which the company agreed to build more four ponds installed with wastewater treatment systems.”
“The company is preparing the land to build a water-management system to ensure there will be no problems in the future,” he told RFA. “It is expected to start in August.”
The environment in Luang Namtha province has been polluted not only by the cassava plant, but also by herbicides and pesticides used on banana plantations as well as waste from mine excavation companies backed by Chinese investors.
Another cassava power-generating company located in Natham village in the Pak-Ngum district of Vientiane municipality released contaminated water into Nong-han Lake, killing hundreds of tons of fish between 2009 and 2015, according to a villager who requested anonymity.
Though the government failed to address the issue, the company, backed by a Korean investor, eventually went bankrupt and shut down, he said.