Sat, Dec 30, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Pollution struggle far from over

As the year draws to a close, there have been a couple of advances on the environmental front that deserve cheers — such as moves at central and local levels to expand restrictions on retailers from providing plastic shopping bags, disposable food packaging and eating utensils — but one effort to curb industrial penollution also serves as a reminder of how much more work lies ahead.

The central government this week approved the Kaohsiung City Government’s decision to ban factories along the Houjin (後勁溪) and Shihlong (獅龍溪) rivers and Cingpu Ditch (青埔溝) from using ammonium chloride, as well as control ammonia nitrogen emissions along the waterways, although the Legislative Yuan needs to amend the Water Pollution Control Act (水污染防治法) before the changes can be implemented.

This announcement came more than six months after Kaohsiung lost a lawsuit at the High Administrative Court over its fining of Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) for discharging toxic wastewater into the Houjin River between 2007 and 2013.

The lawsuit stemmed from an investigation into ASE dumping toxic water into Houjin in early December 2013. That discovery led the city to fine the company NT$102 million (US$3.4 million at the current exchange rate); it also triggered protests against ASE, which led its chairman to promise the firm would donate up to NT$3 billion over 30 years to promote environmental protection, even though the company argued the discharge was a once-off incident.

However, the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) pollution management database and probes by the Kaohsiung Environmental Protection Bureau showed the firm had long been a serial offender.

ASE was not the only Kaohsiung company caught dumping that month: Lian-yi Industrial Co used pipes connected to the rainwater sewer system to dispose of wastewater that was even more toxic than ASE’s.

Cynics were quick to ask if Kaohsiung officials felt the need to act following the release of the documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above (看見台灣) in November 2013, a film that showed the extent of the Houjin River’s damaged state, as its waters ran red.

More than four years later, the city and central governments are finally moving to halt further damage to waterways passing near industrial zones in Kaohsiung — waters that are also used to irrigate more than 1,600 hectares of farmland — but the proposed measures are still at least two years away from taking effect.

The two governments said they want laws amended so that the changes can be implemented by 2020, but as we have seen with the debate over amending the Mining Act (礦業法) during the current legislative session, wanting and achieving are very different things.

The changes would only cover pollution of Kaohsiung’s waterways — the Kaohsiung bureau blithely noted that Formosa Plastic Group’s (FPG) plant in Renwu District (仁武) pumps its wastewater out to sea. That is not reassuring, given the plant’s record. While its wastewater is processed at a separate facility before being released into the ocean, the EPA in 2009 found that soil and groundwater near the plant had been polluted by benzene and seven other pollutants at concentrations more than 20 times the government’s maximum standard, and levels of 1 ,2-dichloroethane were more than 30,000 times the standard.

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