Mekong River Waters Deemed Safe After Swift Response to Sulfuric Acid Spill in Laos

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(Photo: All in Laos)

The waters of the Mekong River are now safe after a recent spill of sulfuric acid in Laos has prompted concern along the border regions shared with Laos.

On the afternoon of 3 April, a truck carrying 30 tons of sulfuric acid encountered an accident in Phou Xang Kham village in Luang Prabang, resulting in a significant spill in the canal nearby. The incident occurred when the truck transporting sulfuric acid toppled over, leading to the leakage of approximately 50 percent of its contents. The incident site is located approximately 300 meters from the Nam Khan River and about 6 kilometers from the confluence of the Mekong River.

On the following day, local authorities erected barriers to prevent the acid-contaminated water from reaching the river, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC)

A comprehensive site inspection was conducted on 7 April by the MRC Secretariat, Lao National Mekong Committee, the Department of Water Resources, the National Resources and Environmental Research Institute (NRERI). Recognizing the urgency of the situation due to the highly corrosive nature of sulfuric acid and its potential harm to living organisms, a team of experts along with provincial staff averted a potential environmental catastrophe through swift containment and remediation efforts over the weekend.

Field measurements revealed that while there were initial impacts observed at the incident site, including reduced dissolved oxygen levels and elevated sulfate concentrations, the water quality in the Nam Khan River and Mekong River remained unaffected. The implementation of barriers from local authorities and neutralization measures effectively contained the spill’s effects, ensuring minimal environmental damage.

However, the incident has raised concerns for Thai authorities, as the contamination was expected to quickly reach Thailand. Thai officials have also been in contact with their counterparts in Laos to coordinate efforts. 

Sulfuric acid, widely used in various industries, is highly corrosive and can cause severe health problems. The extent of harm depends on factors such as exposure duration and dosage.