August 24, 2017

Laos: Lack of facilities prevent adequate treatment of chemical waste

By:  Vientiane Times, August 24, 2017

VIENTIANE - The correct treatment of potentially harmful chemical waste is proving to be a challenge in fulfilling the Law on Chemical Management, and large sums of money will be needed to effectively achieve this.

Experts who were involved in drafting the law expressed this view yesterday when introducing the law to representatives from relevant line ministries.

The draft was approved in November last year by the National Assembly and President Bounnhang Vorachit announced its promulgation the following month.

The Ministry of Industry and Commerce yesterday held a meeting to disseminate the law at the central level, with Deputy Minister Phanthong Phitthouma presiding over the meeting.

Talking to Vientiane Times on the sidelines of the meeting, Deputy Director General of the ministry’s Department of Industry and Handicrafts, Somfong Soulivanh, said “We do not have places to treat and dispose of hazardous waste. This is a major challenge to the implementation of the Law on Chemical Management.”

Industry, agriculture, and health are the sectors that use the most chemicals, according to Somfong.

The new law sets out provisions for the import, export, transit, use, production, disposal and treatment of chemicals.

According to Somfong, Laos has some of the necessary equipment and the ministry plans to create a treatment centre in Vientiane and two more in the north and south of the country. But this plan will have to be carried out step by step as it requires sophisticated equipment which will be expensive to purchase.  

The increasing use of chemicals in the industry, agriculture, and health sectors, such as the use of cyanide in mining, herbicides in agriculture, and formalin, chlorine and ammonia in the health sector, have caused public concern.

The lack of comprehensive regulations has created loopholes that have enabled some business operators to ignore social and environmental impacts. One instance of this occurred on banana plantations in the northern provinces, where local residents complained about excessive use of herbicides and the poor management of chemical use.

And even though it has now been shut down, a recycling plant in the Nonthong Industry and Trade Park is another example of how businesses can carry out harmful activities.

The new law outlines the classification and characteristics of chemicals, dividing them into four categories. The chemicals in the first category are highly poisonous and dangerous, potentially having severe effects on health, life, property, and the environment.

The chemicals in the first category are not permitted for trade or use. They may, however, be used in studies, technological development, protection, prevention, and in preventing dangers to human and environmental health, or to property.

Speaking at the meeting, Deputy Minister Phanthong said all related ministries, including Natural Resources and Environment, Energy and Mines, National Defence, Public Security, and Foreign Affairs had to be in agreement about implementing the law.

All of the ministries will need to produce a regulation on the law’s implementation, which will clarify their role and obligations in the process.

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