New cassava plant in southern Laos irritates villagers with smell, noise

The processing plant can sound like an airport and is driving people away from outdoor restaurants.
By RFA Lao
2024.02.14
New cassava plant in southern Laos irritates villagers with smell, noise Residents of the Lao provinces of Savannakhet and Khammouane are complaining about the smell from a cassava processing plant, at left in this undated photo, and a ditch, right, that carries wastewater to a treatment pond.
(Citizen journalist)

Residents of a dozen villages in southern Laos have complained of smoke and an ever-present smell from a cassava processing plant that has irritated eyes and lungs and made it difficult for people to work outside, several locals told Radio Free Asia.

The plant in Savannakhet province can also be very noisy – even at night, according to one resident of Manylath village in Xayboury district.

“It’s like the noise from an airport. It’s unbearable,” he said.

Vietnamese-owned Lao TTL Agricultural and Industrial Co. Ltd. began operations at the plant in November. 

The edible, starchy, tuberous cassava root is sometimes turned into biofuel for power generation. Cassava is also used in a number of food products, including sweeteners, flour and animal feed.

Local farmers have been pleased that they can sell cassava directly to the plant, but the overall impact on everyone’s quality of life may not be worth it, another resident of Manylath village said. 

“I’m not against the plant – it’s been good for us to have it here,” he said. “But I didn’t know it would have such a lot of negative impact on us. I’m speechless now.”

The plant is located in Savannakhet’s Xayboury district but has also affected villagers across the Xe Bang Fai River in neighboring Khammouane province.

Restaurant goers often depart just minutes after arriving because of the strong odor and noise, said one owner of a restaurant in Khammouane’s Xe Bang Fai district.

“They come here and sit down, but they don’t stay long. They leave,” he said. “Before, my restaurant was full. Now it’s almost empty.”

Waste treatment system

The smell is strong during the day and gets more intense in the evening up until about 10 p.m., several people said.

Xayboury district authorities ordered the plant to improve conditions on Jan. 10, Manylath villagers told RFA. But conditions haven’t changed, they said. 

“The smell has never gone away,” the first Manylath village resident said. “It’s actually been much worse.”

Most of the smell is coming from used water that is sent out from the plant through a dirt ditch, a Xayboury district official told RFA. 

The overall waste treatment system isn’t up to standard, but the plant owner recently covered the ditch and has also promised to cover a waste treatment pond, he said. Both actions should eventually reduce the smell.

A Lao TTL employee confirmed to RFA that the company has covered the ditch and is working to cover up the treatment pond.

“I think the smell has already been reduced,” the employee said. “The other issues will be dealt with by this month’s end. The plant is new and everything isn’t in place just yet.”

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed.

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