Meeting new friends can be tough, often because you have the daunting task of conveying interest without conveying too much interest. I have the pleasure of meeting Dr. Mai Thanh Truyet in the summer of 2015 and instantly we have become friends since. Not so much as in music, lifestyle or poetry, our friendship foundation is we both share the love for the country of Vietnam and the world environmental. Although I'm not always agree with some of his view, but his enthusiastic about the love for Vietnam is poetry in itself.
Before I continue on our quest to combat the arsenic problem in Vietnam, let's get to know his background a little bit. Graduated in 1960 Petrus Ky’, Vietnam, Dr. Truyet continued his education in Besançon, Eastern France. In 1973, he earned a doctorate in Chemistry, Structural Organic “Mono-Chlorination of Hydrocarbons in Obscurity”.
From 1973 to 1975, Dr. Truyet returns to Vietnam and server as Associate professor at University of Saigon, director of academic affairs for University of Cao Dai - Tay Ninh.
In 1976, he was served as Consultant for Science & Technology Committee of HCM City to 1979 (Ủy ban Khoa học & Kỹ thuật Tp HCM).
In 1983 together with his family, Dr. Truyet flee Vietnam as boat refugee and came to United State. He settles down in Minnesota and continue his post-doctorate study in Medical School of Minnesota and successfully publish two articles on “Structure of Red Blood Cell Membrane”. He later served as Laboratory director for Chemical Waste Management, Inc. in California (1987 to 1994). There, he focusses on toxic solid and liquid waste treatment.
In 1995, his work leads him to Weck Environmental Labs, CA as QA/QC Director and served as director for Leachate treatment plant of BKK Corporation West Covina, CA.
In 2011 together with other scientist and specialist, they form EnviroCom, Inc. a non-profit organization focusing on environment condition in Vietnam and the world. See more on EnviroCom, Inc.
Dr. Truyet retired in 2012 where he settled in Houston TX with his new loving and supporting wife. However, his work does not stop there. He is now serving as chairman for two of non-profit organizations, Vietnamese Science & Technology Society (VAST) and Vietnamese Environmental Protection Society (VEPS) where most of his focus is the latter.
During summer of 2016 as we're discussing a calamity in Bangladesh on arsenic contaminated water where deaths of tens of thousands every year, Dr. Truyet began to tell me about his quest to alert Vietnamese people about the danger of arsenic and its' rising level have started long ago.
1999 - Understood the connection between Yarlung Tsangpo river (that lead to the deadly arsenic level in Bangladesh 1970) and the Delta rivers in Vietnam, he had begun to create an awareness program about the environment in Vietnam. As a member of the Vietnamese American Science and Technology Society (VAST), at a conference in Garden Grove, California U.S., Dr. Truyet served as the conference chairman began the opening statement.
2002 - 2003 - To further proves VAST suspicion, Dr. began a series of testing for dangerous metals in water at the Mekong river in Vietnam. Once the arsenic level was detected at an alarming rate in various place along the Mekong river, he began to publish a series of articles of his findings and also to raise awareness in readers as well as the government.
2003 - Arsenic in water and Development and Environment in Vietnam.
2004 - Arsenic contamination around the world and a finding by Dr. Leno Ho (Florida University) in natural reduction of arsenic by Pteris Vitata (fern) in 2004.
2005 - Summary article at a VAST conference in Santa Ana, California U.S.
2011 - Interview by Asian American Press.
2016 - Arsenic Pollution in the Mekong Delta. and Mekong River in Danger.
2018 - Arsenic contamination remediation for the 21st century.
From my understanding, the living condition of the people who lived near Mekong Delta and Red River Delta is so poor, it will be a very challenging and costly task for the local government to bring quality water to them. There are many inventions world-wide (specially in India) that has effectively reduce arsenic level below the World Health Organization (WHO) standard for drinking water, but they can be very costly and the replacement filters are hard to come by. I asked Dr. Truyet if he could think of a better but little to no cost solution and easily construct as in they can do it themselves.
Long into the conversation, he remembers a study was done using dried plant as an arsenic adsorbent was conducted long ago but no one seems to continue its' research. I've challenge him to take on this idea and maybe in a slight chance of hope, we can find an effective solution that not only the people in Vietnam but millions people world-wide can benefit. He gladly accepts the challenge as we begin our quest for arsenic removal.
After collecting four different plants that can easily be found in Vietnam, Dr. Truyet began his initial experiment using those plants as a biosorbents in arsenic removal. The results came back from Weck Laboratories a week later and I was astounded by the effectiveness (>95%) of these dried plants. We reached out to a few friends and were invited to conduct a series of seminars in Australia (Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Wollongong and Adelaide Australia) to share our findings. We received heartwarming and tremendous supports from the Vietnamese community there as they've tasked us to continue to find a practical solution.
It has been over a year since we begin our quest, Dr. Truyet' (now well over 75 years old) commitment in finding a solution for arsenic reduction in drinking water still going strong and even more focus. With his relentless energy but equally diminutive attention span together with the support from his wife, his quest in finding a better environment for Vietnam can maybe one day earn the respect from all the people there as I am. Recently we've successfully come up with a prototype (easily build with no cost) as we hope can be put to good use.
Over the past 3 years as friends, from sharing a nice bottle of wine to driving or flying over 20 hours together, I've learn to respect him more not only as a friend, a brother but also as a mentor.
His endless quest in science speak for itself but also as an environmentalist and his care for the poor people in Vietnam is where his true heart lies.