On April 29, the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) reported that tens of thousands of residents in Greater Kaohsiung’s Linyuan District (林園) may be living in a highly carcinogenic environment, with the risk of developing cancer as high as one in every 10,000 to 100,000 people. It is of paramount importance that the public has access to the full contents of the health risk assessment, so that it can be informed of any potential dangers.
Living close to the Linyuan industrial park, home to about 20 petrochemical refineries, the health of local residents is at risk from air pollution, with high levels of carcinogenic materials such as butadiene, benzene and chloroethylene recorded in the area. Worryingly, many of the refinery operators in the park have been expanding their production capacity recently, or constructing new facilities to avoid the restrictions stipulated in environmental impact assessments (EIA). Of particular concern is CPC Corp, Taiwan’s third naphtha cracker expansion project, on which construction is nearly finished. One thing is clear: We shall soon see more clashes between vested economic interests and environmental protection and public health bodies. How did this situation develop?
Between September 2007 and December 2008, the environmental impact assessment for the third naphtha plant expansion plan was discussed at several Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) meetings, as well as at two Environmental Impact Assessment Committee reviews. During these, we at Mercy on the Earth, Taiwan — precursor to Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan (CET), expressed concern and protested that the review should take place after the impact assessments and health risk analysis had been carried out. The reason for these reservations was the alarmingly high number of people living downwind from the industrial park who have succumbed to liver cancer before the age of 40, a fact that Linyuan residents have alerted the EPA and the EIA committee to before.
A high concentration of petrochemical plants, their proximity to residential areas and the sheer amount of organic toxins present in the environment have had an adverse effect on local residents’ health. Furthermore, the Linyuan area is home to livestock and fishing industries. Until it has been established whether the health risks in the area exceed the acceptable range — a cancer occurrence rate of one in a million — we demanded to know on what basis the EIA committee could approve the expansion of CPC’s third naphtha cracker.
Other voices were added to ours and those of local residents. The EPA minister at the time, Stephen Shen (沈世宏), had previously met with two experts in the field, professors Chou Chin-cheng (周晉澄) and Wu Kuen-yuh (吳焜裕), and asked them to join us at the meeting. Chou and Wu stressed the need for an initial health risk assessment. If more committee members had listened to their advice and agreed that a health risk assessment must be completed prior to proceeding to the second-stage review, the present controversy could have been avoided and the plight of many Linyuan residents could have been highlighted earlier.
Regrettably, society seems to be preoccupied with the economy, and the EIA committee failed to make the decision that would have prevented all this. We are left looking on with disappointment at how things have transpired: The expansion has gone ahead, and only afterward are health risks considered. Meanwhile, the people living next to the industrial park are being sacrificed to the greed of society.