DONG NAI, Vietnam: A thick layer of dust from the construction of a huge airport in Vietnam has been blanketing nearby neighbourhoods for months, staining everything from trees to homes to schoolchildren’s uniforms a sickly shade of red.
Located 40km from southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City, the four-runway Long Thanh airport – which will be the country’s largest – is forecast to transport 100 million passengers and five million tonnes of cargo annually once finished.
But after heavy construction work began earlier this year, residents as far as 10km from the site have been living under billowing clouds of dust, prompting fears for their health and anger over the disruption caused to their lives.
“It has been unbearable. The red dust is just everywhere in our community,” said Tran Minh Hoang, who lives in Dong Nai province’s Binh Son district.
Hoang, 59, begins each day hosing down his front yard to get rid of the muck, but the dust was so severe that he resorted to wrapping a fine nylon net around the entire front section of the house.
“It has helped a little,” he told AFP.
His wife, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Hanh, said they had kept their one-year-old grandson almost entirely indoors for months.
“We cannot force him to wear a face mask. So it’s better to limit his time outdoors,” Hanh said.
A thick coating of dust could be seen in the yard of local schools, while pictures on state media showed textbooks, classrooms and children’s uniforms had turned red after a school day.
Nguyen Van Chanh, 70, said the chairs, bowls and dishes in his kitchen were covered, as was his laundry.
Inside the enormous construction site, scores of trucks could be seen motoring to and fro, stirring up the red earth.
Inspections by the local environment department showed dust pollution at the site reached highs of up to 18 times the permitted levels, state media reported.
Local authorities have “reported the issue and demanded the environment ministry conduct an inspection over the compliance of environmental regulations at the site”, state media said.
According to the initial plan, the first phase of the project – aiming to serve 25 million passengers a year – was due to be finished by around 2025.
But Airports Corporation of Vietnam (ACV) recently told the government the deadline would be pushed to 2026.
The completion of the airport, which will span 5,000 hectares and cost an estimated US$16 billion, will likely be many years after that.
After complaints from residents and local authorities, investors and contractors deployed several trucks to dampen the ground in a bid to reduce the amount of dust in the air.
“The measure has not been effective as the site area is too big,” project head Do Tat Binh admitted to state media.
For Hanh, the building of the airport had been something she’d looked forward to, hoping it would make the neighbourhood better connected.
“We were so happy at first when we knew there would be a huge airport in this area. But now we have become sick of it.”