Yunlin County Government’s Environmental Protection Bureau yesterday fined Formosa Group’s naphtha cracker plant in Mailiao (麥寮) NT$1 million (US$31,000) for violating the Air Pollution Protection Act (空氣污染防治法) and ordered the company to stop operations at its hydrodesulfurization (HDS) unit immediately after a fire on Sunday night.
The fire, which broke out at the HDS unit which produces 80,000 barrels per day (bpd), was the second this month. The first occurred on July 7 at the plant’s Alkene unit.
One third of capacity could be out of action for an extended period, the company said.
Hsieh Yein-rui (謝燕儒), director of Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) Air Quality Protection and Noise Control Department, said the EPA’s Emergency Response Team arrived at the site at 1:59am yesterday and collected air samples. The team found that the air sample contained 1.4 parts per million (ppm) of a-methyl styrene and 1.3ppm of toluene, lower than the 50ppm stated in the Standards of Permissible Exposure Limits of Airborne Hazardous Substances in the Workplace (勞工作業環境空氣中有害物容許濃度標準).
The fire did not cause a toxic chemical release, Hsieh said, adding that the EPA would closely monitor particulate matter levels in the air.
The EPA said the fire had nonetheless affected air quality and that Formosa had been fined NT$1 million, the severest penalty listed in the Air Pollution Protection Act.
Hsieh said Formosa could not resume operations at the HDS unit until it has passed a safety inspection to be organized by the Yunlin County bureau.
Formosa had to shut one of its two 84,000 bpd gasoline-making residue fluid catalytic crackers at the complex on July 13 because of mechanical problems. The unit failed to restart on schedule on Friday because of technical issues.
An explosion at its No. 1 naphtha cracker on July 7 forced the company to shut the unit, which is located at a different site in Mailiao. The naphtha cracker is expected to resume operations in late September or early October.
Hundreds of residents in Mailiao gathered at the front gate of the naphtha cracker plant, some wearing face masks bearing the Chinese character for “poison” (毒), to protest against pollution produced by Formosa.
Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-feng (蘇治芬) said the central government would soon review activities at the naphtha cracker plant and was also reviewing a plan to expand its facilities.
She said it was only reasonable that the public would oppose Formosa’s expansion plan if the central government does not intervene and establish a mechanism of reimbursement between the Formosa Group and Mailiao residents.
Su said the county government would stand by the public and take action if the central government approved Formosa’s expansion plan.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday instructed agencies to conduct an evaluation on the cause of the fire and its impact. Presidential Office Spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said Ma asked the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the EPA and the National Fire Agency to conduct an evaluation to prevent a similar event happening in future.
Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) told reporters that his ministry would ask Formosa to conduct a full investigation into the accident.
“I do not believe any business wants to see accidents happen,” he said. “It causes great problems for local residents and the business itself.”
The ministry would consider whether to mete out any punishment before the Yunlin County Fire Fighting Department and the Council of Labor Affairs’ Inspection Office had completed their investigation and presented a report, Shih said.
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