HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese government minister says it's now safe to swim at most beaches in four central provinces where massive fish deaths occurred more than four months ago because of toxic chemicals released by a Taiwanese steel company.
The online newspaper VnExpress quoted Environment Minister Tran Hong Ha as telling a conference Monday that aquaculture is now also safe in most areas, but that research by the Ministry of Health is needed to determine whether it's safe to eat fish caught within 20 nautical miles (23 miles, 37 kilometers) off the coast of the four affected provinces.
Professor Mai Trong Nhuan, who headed a team of Vietnamese and foreign scientists commissioned by the government to study the impact of the disaster, told the conference that the chemicals, including cyanide and carbolic acids, are becoming more dilute, according to VnExpress.
Nhuan said the marine ecosystem, including coral reefs, sea grasses and other marine resources that were seriously damaged, has begun to recover.
The factory, owned by the Formosa Plastics Group, acknowledged in June that it was responsible for the pollution that killed large numbers of fish off the central Vietnamese coast, and pledged to pay $500 million to clean it up and compensate affected people.
The country's worst environmental disaster has devastated the fishing and tourism industries in the region.
The government said in a report to the National Assembly in July that the disaster harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.
An estimated 115 tons of fish washed ashore along more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) of the central coast in April, the report said. The pollution sparked rare protests across the country.
Formosa Plastics's $10.6 billion steel complex in Ha Tinh province includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port, and is one of the largest foreign investments in Vietnam.