Wed, Mar 06, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Koo's group under fire in US

ENVIRONMENT Angry workers at a chemical plant in Oklahoma say Continental Carbon, controlled by the the Koo's group, endangered the health of laborers

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A US labor group plans to sue several Taiwanese firms for allegedly violating US state and federal environmental laws and endangering workers.

Representatives of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union (PACE) arrived in Taiwan on Monday. They plan to sue China Synthetic Rubber Corp and Taiwan Cement Corp, which own Continental Carbon Co in the US. Both firms are in turn owned by the Koo's group.

PACE alleges that Continental Carbon -- a maker of carbon black, a component of tires and other rubber and plastic products -- violated US federal laws designed to ensure resource conservation and recovery.

Specifically, the union says Continental Carbon failed to treat carbon black oil as hazardous waste at a plant outside Ponca City, Oklahoma. Carbon black oil is the residue left over from the oil refining process used in making carbon black. Workers are exposed to the oil, which may contain carcinogens.

Officials from China Synthetic Rubber denied the allegations yesterday and said charges that Continental Carbon violated environmental laws were false.

PACE also alleged that Continental Carbon's operations contaminated groundwater. In addition, the labor union says, the company at its plants in Oklahoma and Texas failed to take steps to deal with hazardous waste -- posing a threat to public health, employees and the environment.

"By the end of April, we will file a federal lawsuit for the company's violation of environmental laws," said Todd Carlson, a PACE representative who has worked at Continental Carbon's Oklahoma plant for 11 years.

In the US, a 60-day notice is required prior to the filing of a federal lawsuit that seeks civil penalties for violations, injunctive relief to stop future violations and recovery of court costs and attorneys' fees.

Carlson said PACE in late February notified Continental Carbon and its Taiwan-based parent companies of its intent to sue.

PACE also filed notices with the US Department of Justice, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

Joseph Drexler, director of special projects at PACE, said yesterday that Continental Carbon at its plants failed to properly classify raw materials -- leading to the deterioration of the working environment for employees.

Labor representative Ernie Anderson said workers at the Oklahoma plant have refused to renew their contracts and have been locked-out since May. Anderson said that new contracts offered by Continental Carbon offered less insurance and long working hours.

Labor unions and environmental groups in the US plan to campaign in Chinese communities in California and New York soon, targeting 18 bank branches of Chinatrust, which is also controlled by the Koo's group.

Christine Ying (應小華), spokeswoman for China Synthetic Rubber, said PACE representatives should try to communicate with Continental Carbon instead of targeting the firm's Taiwanese parent companies.

"Continental Carbon has done nothing to violate environmental or labor regulations in the US," Ying said.

But Wu Tung-Jye (吳東傑), chairman of the Green Formosa Foundation, pshawed the notion that activists couldn't take their fight to Taiwan or to places where the Koo's group does business.

"During this era of globalization, no parent company should seek to escape responsibility for overseas pollution," Wu said.

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