Sun, May 07, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Justice for naphtha cracker victims

By Chang Kuo-tsai 張國財

National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health on Thursday last week held a news conference to announce the results of its new study into the health risks to Changhua County residents from a naphtha cracker in Mailiao Township (麥寮) in neighboring Yunlin County.

Formosa Plastics Group representatives have asserted the company’s innocence, saying that the findings are “completely unrelated” to the plant’s operations and calling on the research team to assemble a panel of specialists to review its findings prior to publication to avoid “spreading panic among the public and squandering public resources.”

However, what the public really wants is to know is why the urine samples of residents of Taisi (台西) and Dingjhuang (頂庄) villages in Changhua County’s Dacheng Township (大城) — which lies about 8km north of the industrial zone where the plant is located — contain a cocktail of heavy metals and other pollutants at levels that are demonstrably higher than those of residents living in areas farther from the plant?

Why is it that, when the wind blows from the direction of the naphtha plant during the summer months, equipment at Yongguan Elementary School in Dacheng Township’s Gongguan Village (公館) measures high levels of benzene, a carcinogen?

The public would also very much like to know why Taisi Village residents are 2.66 times more likely to develop cancer than the residents of other villages in Dacheng Township — and 2.29 times more at risk than Jhutang Township (竹塘) residents. In addition, why is it impossible to ascertain who and what is responsible for this prevalence?

Who is able to provide frightened Taisi and Dingjhuang residents with answers to these questions? Having been left without help for so many years, they are filled with despair, rage and indignation.

If it is not the case that these phenomena were already in existence before Formosa Plastics turned up, then perhaps it is pure coincidence that they only began to appear once the naphtha cracker commenced operations.

To argue that there is no causal relationship between the naphtha cracker, evidence of carcinogens and a high risk of cancer — and pretending that this is all some sort of a fantastic coincidence — is surely asking people to suspend their rationality.

It is doubtful whether Formosa Plastics’ strategy of adopting an attitude of “nothing to do with us, ask someone else” will be sufficient to isolate it from the objective facts: The existence of carcinogens and a high risk of cancer in areas not far from the plant.

It is also highly doubtful whether the company’s attempt to slander the university’s research team by saying it is “spreading panic among the public and squandering public resources” would dispel doubts and dissenting opinions, and prove beyond question that the naphtha cracker is safe and has nothing to do with the carcinogens and high prevalence of cancer.

In April last year, a steel mill in Vietnam owned by Formosa Plastics was implicated in the illegal discharge of toxic wastewater linked to the sudden deaths of fish in the country’s central region.

Following the protests of local residents, Formosa Plastics said that the wastewater was managed in accordance with the conclusions of the plant’s environmental impact assessment before being released into the sea and that there had not been one instance of non-compliance.

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