According to media reports, the first refinery at Formosa Plastics Group’s (FPG) naphtha cracker in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township (麥寮) had a gas leak on Nov. 12 that injured a worker.
Yunlin County Commissioner Chang Li-shan (張麗善) said that, in accordance with the Air Pollution Control Act (空氣污染防制法), the Yunlin County Government would issue FPG the maximum fine of NT$5 million (US$163,843) and demand a suspension of work in the affected area.
The naphtha cracker complex has been in operation for more than 20 years and, even from a global perspective, it is a huge area for a single industry.
The impact of the complex on the township, which was previously a small fishing village, on Yunlin County, which focused on agriculture, and on Taiwan as a whole cannot be overstated.
The impact is not limited to industrial production and economic gain. As an academic living in the area, I have seen its huge effect on society and the environment.
For example, since April, there have been explosions and other incidents that have affected the public and work safety. Local farmers and fishers are still negotiating with FPG over compensation for the post-incident impact of an explosion at the complex in April. Last month, four workers were injured at the refinery.
In the most recent incident, a worker sustained third-degree burns. The Yunlin County Government acted with speed, immediately ordering that work be suspended as it issued the fine. Still, the biggest concern among residents and plant workers is when the next accident will occur and if it will be more serious than previous ones.
Following completion of the most recent once-in-a-decade overall safety check at the naphtha cracker in 2010, FPG pledged to fully replace old, corroded pipes. It called on its entire staff, the industry, the government, academics and researchers to practice systematic risk management.
Has it completely failed to learn its lessons or forgotten corporate social responsibility and relied on Lady Luck, and prioritized profits over public safety?
In his book Risk Society, sociologist Ulrich Beck says that humanity’s survival is at risk, and that this risk is caused by our industrial society.
Society is full of actions driven by institutionalized irresponsibility, and what is particularly worrying is that those who create risk protect their own interests at the cost of those who have to bear the risk.
Given the frequent safety problems at the Mailiao plant, it is time that the government and FPG executives ask themselves if they are overlooking the importance of public safety and workers’ lives and health.
Such careless and arrogant management is gambling with the lives of workers and residents. It would be more effective if everyone started praying for protection.
Chen Tai-an is an associate professor at Transworld University’s sustainable tourism and environmental resources management department.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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