The Lao Brewery Co. may produce the country’s most popular beer, but the company is out of favor in the village neighboring its brewery in Vientiane, where residents there blame it for polluting the air and water.
“There is a bad smell, and we cannot use the water in the marsh and canal because it is dirty,” a resident of the Salakham village told RFA’s Lao Service.
“Polluted water from the Lao brewery flows into Salakham marsh, and now people cannot catch fish there like they did in the past,” added the resident who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The villager said the problem becomes more acute when the brewery ramps up production ahead of holidays, including the Lao New Year in April.
“When the company rushes to increase production on the occasions of Lao New Year and international New Year, it causes more polluted water than usual,” the villager said.
The company, which is jointly owned by the Lao government and the brewing giant Carlsberg, claims a 99 percent share of the Lao beer market. BeerLao, the nation’s most popular beer, is among the products it manufactures in its brewery in Vientiane’ Hatsayfong district.
On the company’s website, it claims to be “fully aware of environmental impact and is doing its utmost to protect the environment and quality of life both at its plants and in society in general.”
In an interview with RFA, a company official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, both dismissed the complaints and said the company was working to clean up its act.
Adding a second treatment facility
“That [pollution] is not big issue because our team and Vientiane’ environmental officials inspect it, so there is no problem,” the official said. “Now, the company is improving and building a second water pollution management system after the people submitted complaints to the government.”
But the Salakham villager says the company is taking too long to fix the issue.
“In 2014, over 1,000 families throughout the villages of Salakham, Nahai, Donfai and Dongphonelao signed their names to a petition to the prime minister seeking resolution, but nothing has been done,” the villager said. “As a result, the aquatic animals and plants in the marsh and canal died in the dry season because the polluted water is not drained into Mekong River like it is during the rainy season.”
A Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment official told RFA that they have inspected the brewery, adding that the Lao Brewery Co. is not the only offender.
“Not only do we inspect the Lao Brewery Company, but also others if they are suspected of causing pollution,” said Bounty Dethvongsone, the ministry’s first secretary. “Then we report to the government for a resolution in due course.”
It’s not the first time business associated with the Lao Brewery Co. has come under scrutiny for pollution.
Earlier this month the Lao government ordered a factory in the capital Vientiane that recycles 80 tons of spent beer malt a day to shut down after its owners failed to control pollution from the process.
That factory in the Saysettha district’s Doung village recycles spent brewer’s malt from the Lao Brewing Company breweries and exports the used grains to Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Foods, where it is turned into animal feed.
On Oct. 17, The Vientiane Times reported that the social and environmental impacts caused by chemical substances, and the National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) for 2017 will be among top agendas of the upcoming ordinary session of the National Assembly.
The National Assembly Economic, Technology and Environment Commission put those issues up for discussion during a meeting last week in Vientiane as preparation for the upcoming National Assembly session that runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 18.
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.