Nghia Hung A Upper Secondary School
Nghia Hung, Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam
Students in 12A2 Class
Dang Thi Ngoc Ha
The firing of bricks in local factories is creating a wall of smoke. Students at Nghia Hung A Upper Secondary School interview factory owners and workers as well as local residents dealing with soot in their houses and lungs. Consulting experts, they find that solutions are available, but are they viable?
Reducing the Environmental Impact of Brick Factories in Lieu De Township
Find solutions to mitigate the impact from brick factories on the environment, human health, and help reduce the risk of the greenhouse effect.
II. Our research method
Observing, filming, photographing, interviewing, and talking with kiln owners and the people affected.
III. What we learned
Lieu De Township in Nghia Hung district is a pleasant town with long streets, and is located along provincial road 490 next to a flowing river. However, despite the poetic scenery, the town has developed rapidly and environmental pollution has become severely debilitating with smoke, dust, noise, and waste.
Through research and surveys, we found that the factor that causes the most serious pollution is smoke from the brick factories in the district. Nghia Hung currently has many active brick kilns. There are as many as 30 of them in operation in the center of town. The areas along the Ninh Co River, connecting Nghia Hung district with Truc Ninh district, are especially problematic with about 10 furnaces situated here. Although the chimneys of the brick kilns were updated, they lack advanced gas processing technology. Untreated gas is released directly into the air where it dissipates into the environment. The kilns operate throughout the year regardless of the weather.
We went to visit a brick factory during the late autumn when the weather was very erratic, changing from rain to sun, and the kilns were active the entire time. From a remote distance, we could see columns of smokestacks with white smoke billowing out. In our interview with kiln owner and Lieu De Township resident, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hoai, said “The furnaces have no exhaust treatment systems, but the chimneys are built high, so the surrounding areas shouldn’t be affected.” However, the facts recorded in our observation belie this. Kilns were adjacent to residential areas where dust from kilns flies blind as fog, covering dirt roads and making it difficult to walk.
A. The harmful effects of brick factories.
We asked a classmate’s uncle, who owns a brick factory, to allow us to tour the facility. The smell of furnace oil, coal, and dust when combined formed a noxious gas mixture causing us to feel nauseous and quite sickly. We spoke with the workers who are directly affected by the kiln emissions. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hanh, a brick kiln worker, remarked, “At first it was hard, but I eventually got used to it.” She laughed. When we asked about the periodic health examination, she answered, “No, there is no disease to examine…and no money.” Laughing again, she explained, “We don’t have health insurance and going to the hospital costs a lot of money.” Workers here are not aware of the direct harm to their health caused by dust and exhaust. Working in these conditions heightens the risk of respiratory disease, but their monthly income, which ranges only from 1.5 to 2 million Vietnamese dong (or VND; about US $72-$96), makes healthcare unaffordable.
We interviewed households around the brick factory, and many residents spoke with a sense of frustration. “In recent years, we have had to live in a polluted environment, with a growing number of brick kilns springing up. Our houses are always full of smoke, and the smell of coal and soil. We can’t stand living in such conditions. Dust always covers furniture, and it immediately returns after we clean. On rainy days, even though the furnace dust is suppressed, it is very difficult to travel because of muddy streets.”
According to Dr. Le Thi Tuyet, assistant professor and the head of the Center for Exploration of Respiratory Function at the Ho Chi Minh Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, the kiln dust contains many pollutants, such as sulfur oxides that cause airway spasms, and nitrogen oxides that injure airways and causes respiratory bronchiolitis. In terms of the environment, smoke and dust are constantly discharged directly into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and global climate change.
A project called “continuous vertical kilns” has received the support of many scientists and people in the area, but the brick kiln owners are not sympathetic to it because of the cost. This project was first tested in Phu Yen. Master Duong Van Nghi working at Phu Yen’s Department of Science and Industry explained, “Continuous vertical kilns are only 45% less economical in comparison to coal fired with wood. Moreover, the gas flow is reduced 11.5 times, but it reduces sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions by six times, and the temperature of gas is low.”
These brick kilns are designed as dual furnaces that can produce four million bricks each year, and be in service continuously without stopping, unlike normal kilns. In general, each continuous vertical furnace saves 75 million VND (or US $3,600) of fuel compared with traditional kilns of the same capacity. Old-style kilns have many disadvantages, such as high fuel consumption and exhaust emissions leading to serious environmental pollution.
However, the model of vertical kilns requires continuous investment. Each kiln needs about 400 million VND (or US $19,200) at least, whereas a traditional furnace costs only tens of millions VND. Furthermore, according to the guidelines of the Ministry of Construction, an alternative solution to the brick kilns is used at the Tuynen kilns, and there they use an even more modern technology because the vertical furnace is a potential risk.
Kim Ngan Commune of Co-Production of Bricks, Dao Duc village, Vi Xuyen district, Ha Giang province, has successfully applied new technology to a brick fuel gas treatment system. Exhaust gas treatments process the heating, and the kiln’s waste is returned through absorption by a seal and reservoir system. Workers then continuously spray lime when it rains and after the implementation process, easing the stress on people’s air passages. The cooperative has invited the Department of Municipal Resources and Environment to test the technology and the results showed that the levels of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide were more than 80% lower compared with the gases emitted by other kilns, reaching Vietnamese standards for emissions into the environment.
Our “Going Green” proposal for new technology in the construction of brick kilns will combat lung deterioration. Traditional kilns increase people’s susceptibility to infections and allergies. Moreover, dust causes asthma attacks, exacerbates chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as respiratory mortality and cardiovascular disease.
In addition to affecting health and human lives, smoke and dust also damage crops planted near the kiln factories. Smoke and heat from the brick kilns burn and choke rice leaves, and reduce the crop production. The exploitation of land resources to supply materials for making bricks also affects the environment. As one factory owner explained, he has to purchase clay to make the bricks, and this is usually transported from somewhere, though some of it is mined from available land in the yard.
Thorough our observations, we could see that the banks of the rivers are all privately owned land, which causes traffic congestion and yet more pollution in the surrounding environments. The waste from the kiln also contributes to serious environmental pollution. Currently, ash from the fuel tiles is used to produce ceramic bearings, but the waste byproducts are removed from the furnace and poured out along the river byways. This not only mars places of natural beauty, but also encroaches upon the roads and pollutes the environment. To make matters worse, whenever trucks with bricks or slags pass through, all the roadways become overwhelmed with dust.
B. How difficult is it to get rid of brick factories?
Under government guidelines, by the end of year 2010, all the brick kilns throughout Vietnam must stop operation due to the risk of environmental pollution. Many continue to operate and local authorities appear confused about the regulations.
The main challenges to changing the situation are:
1. Brick factories creates jobs with each factory employing an average of 10 to 12 workers. In all, the brick factories in Lieu De Township employ around 300 people.
2. Tuynen ceramic has difficulty competing with handmade bricks. The price of Tuynen ceramics is far higher than the price of handmade bricks. Furthermore, there are too few Tuynen ceramics to meet the needs of local construction.
3. The investment of capital. The brick kiln owners usually spend in the tens of million VND (10 million VND = US $480) in construction, which can be recovered quickly compared to kilns constructed with more expensive, environmentally friendly technology.
C. Alternatives to traditional brick kilns
Using the Internet and other sources of information, we researched many localities across the country to find solutions to help our community address this environmental problem. Although some improvements can be seen and felt with factories raising the chimneys, these measures only reduce the impact on the surrounding local construction. To significantly reduce their negative impact on the environment and related health risks, brick factories should use gas treatment system technologies. Though our ideas were endorsed by the brick factory owners, they say their high costs keep them from implementing our ideas.