HA NOI (VNS) - Many of Ha Noi's wholesale food markets are not properly cleaned every day, leading to complaints from nearby residents about pollution and strong smells.
Residents blamed the tonnes of rotting rubbish heaped up everywhere and polluted waste-water draining into the streets for the problems.
Every morning, Ha Noi resident Phan Thi Be checks a thick sackcloth thrown over a drain pipe in front of her house in Ba Dinh District's Phuc Xa Ward.
The 50-year-old lives only metres away from Long Bien Market. She knows if the heavy cloth is not in place, stinking odours will pour into the open air.
Other residents also keep their eye on the market, which runs from midnight to early morning.
"The smell is worse on rainy days and waste water from the drain sometimes spills into my house, bringing with it a putrid odor of dead fish, shrimps and rotting food," Be said.
Besides the smells, people in the area have complained about the pollution caused by garbage pilled up in the market.
Inside the market, waste meat and vegetables are strewn all over the ground. The dirtiest places are areas which sell aquatic products and perishable foods.
An 18-member team is divided into shifts to clean-up the garbage. They said about 20 rubbish carts were filled with rubbish every day.
"The market is in bad condition compared to when it was built 21 years ago", a representative of the management board said. He also admitted that the drainage system had suffered serious damage.
Other wholesale markets, including Dong Xuan in Hoan Kiem District and Dich Vong in Cau Giay District are also reported to be badly polluted.
One environmental worker at Dich Vong market told Viet Nam News that despite efforts to clean up every two hours, the ground was still covered with rubbish thrown by traders and customers.
The Den Lu wholesale market in Hoang Mai District in the south of Ha Noi, is also known for its smells. Rubbish can be seen everywhere, even in the parking lot. The stink can be smelled at the very entrance to the market, where there are pools of waste water.
"The smell is really strong. I wear a mask every time I go to the market," said Linh Nam Ward resident Nguyen Thi Hanh Lan, 51. Hanh is particularly worried about food hygiene and the effects of air pollution on her family's health.
Explaining why she threw rubbish around her booth, the owner of a food stall at the market said that the rubbish bins were far away.
Meanwhile, many traders seem not to care about the negative effects of the stink.
Quang Hung, a wholesaler at Long Bien Market, said that the stink was harmless as it was simply the smell of aquatic and farm products, not toxic chemicals.
"The smell may bother you at first, but once you get used to it, you will feel nothing at all," Hung said. His opinion was shared with a market guard working at the market for 20 years.
However, Duong Minh Son, head of the dermatology department at the National Hospital of Traditional Medicine told Viet Nam News that decomposed food and wastewater often carried many toxic chemicals and diseases.
"This can be inhaled deep into the lungs, creating a health hazard," he said, adding that people living near garbage dumps were more susceptible to skin diseases. Long-term exposure to such chemicals could lead to respiratory diseases, heart diseases, kidney failure and even cancer.
At present, Long Bien Market spends up to VND80 million (S$5,029) a month on garbage collection. All traders in the market had also promised to follow environmental protection regulations, Dam Dinh Dung, head of the market's management board, said.
However, the penalties do not deter violators. Traders still dump rubbish on the ground rather than putting it in containers. This makes the job of rubbish collection much more difficult.
Dung said relevant agencies should introduce tougher penalties to tackle the problem.
"However, the management board of the market only has administrative functions, so that it can not take coercive measures or fine violators," Dung said.
The management board said that the market's facilities were being upgraded at a cost of VND30 billion (nearly US$13.6 million) with funds from Ba Dinh District's budget. The board has said it will co-ordinate with other related agencies to eliminate pollution at markets and raise traders' awareness.