Clandestine dumping of toxic nickel waste by Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE) has once again made the Houjin River (後勁溪) in Greater Kaohsiung the subject of news reports. The river has its source on Guanyin Mountain (觀音山) in Dashe District (大社). When it reaches Bagualiao (八卦寮), the river starts to get hemmed in by factories. On its left bank is Formosa Plastics’ Renwu (仁武) plant, CPC Corp’s Kaohsiung plant and the Nanzih (楠梓) Export Processing Zone, and on its right bank is the Renwu, Dashe and Jhuzaimen (竹仔門) industrial zones and the Sicingpu (西青埔) refuse dump.
Only after the river has passed through these industrial areas does it come to the Shihlong Creek (仕隆圳) and Yuanjhonggang Creek (援中港圳) water intake stations, which supply irrigation water for 1,390 hectares of farmland in Ciaotou (橋頭) and Yanchao (燕巢) districts. After that, it passes through the fish-farming area of Zihguan District (梓官) and finally flows into the sea at the Yuanjhonggang wetlands.
After CPC Corp built its plant on the upper reaches of the Houjin River in 1960, other petrochemical factories began to develop around it.
Consequently, large amounts of industrial wastewater containing strong acids, heavy metals and organic chemical toxins are dumped into the Houjin River, from where they flow onto farmland.
The Farm Irrigation Association of Kaohsiung Taiwan (台灣高雄農田水利會) transfers 3.6 million tonnes of water a year from the Gaoping River (高屏溪) to dilute the Houjin River’s polluted water.
Clandestine dumping of wastewater is commonplace. In 2009, it was found that Formosa Plastics’ Renwu plant had allowed 300,000 times the permitted amount of certain pollutants to leak out into underground water without reporting it. ASE was caught breaking the law seven times in two years. Some of these companies are state-owned and some private. They are equally unconcerned about their impact on farming, fisheries and the natural environment.
Why do businesses keep breaking the law and never mend their ways?
The highest fine that can be imposed on offending companies under the existing Water Pollution Control Act (水污染防治法) is NT$600,000 (US$20,235). For a company like ASE, with annual revenues of NT$200 billion, being fined that amount will not even cause discomfort, never mind pain.
The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) decided to use the Administrative Penalty Act (行政罰法) to go after companies’ “ill-gotten gains,” but it has not been able to get much out of them after they appeal the cases. Ordering factories to suspend operations is a measure that can put a real squeeze on companies and meets society’s expectations, but it is not easy to apply. There are few precise regulations in place to prevent employers from transferring the penalty to their employees, or to make sure that they do not reoffend once they restart operations.
The fact that illegal pollution continues to happen proves that the measures described above are not enough to deter delinquent businesses.
The EPA and the legislature should remedy this problem by amending the Water Pollution Control Act to impose heavier penalties according to the seriousness of the pollution caused and the size of the offending company.
They should also make public the concentration and amount of chemical effluents, including those voluntarily declared by factory owners, along with information about penalties imposed by environmental protection departments, rather than waiting until something has gone wrong before giving news media a chance to report on it.