Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE, 日月光半導體), the world’s biggest chip packager, yesterday apologized for a leak of toxic wastewater from its biggest plant in Grater Kaohsiung, and said it was undertaking steps to contain the damage.
The company held a press conference yesterday afternoon after one of its factories, known as K7, was fined NT$600,000 (US$20,300) and ordered to suspend operations for contravening the Water Pollution Control Act (水污染防治法).
Greater Kaohsiung’s Environmental Protection Bureau said its investigators found high levels of acidity and nickel in samples of water taken from the factory’s discharge pool and from the Houjin River (後勁溪), into which it empties.
Water from the river is used to irrigate hundreds of hectares of paddy fields.
Bureau officials said highly acidic waste water with a pH of 3.02 was discovered being discharged under the Demin Bridge (德明橋) during a water quality inspection along the river on Oct. 1, and the source of the pollution was traced back to ASE’s K7 plant.
Water in the wastewater storage tank in the plant’s basement, which is connected to pipes that discharge the water into the river, was tested and found to exceed all standard levels with a pH of 2.63, 96mg/L suspended solids level, 135mg/L chemical oxygen demand level and 4.38mg/L nickel level.
The K7 plant discharges wastewater 24 hours a day, making it the ninth-biggest discharger in the city, and the level of nickel in discharged water was about the same as the wastewater found in the plant, indicating the plant was not treating the water before discharging it, the bureau said.
Bureau Director-General Chen Jin-de (陳金德) on Monday said that the plant’s management showed malicious intent by trying to use tap water to dilute the highly acid wastewater when the inspectors arrived to conduct tests. Since ASE was fined three times for the same violation last year, the bureau decided to impose the stiffest fine possible and order a halt to the plant’s operations.
The company operates 17 plants in Greater Kaohsiung.
ASE officials told reporters yesterday that employees had been punished for failing to notify the environmental bureau about a hydrochloric acid leak when it occurred on Oct. 1.
To prevent a reoccurrence, ASE chief operating officer Tien Wu (吳田玉) said the firm would step up its monitoring mechanisms and review all of its wastewater treatment facilities.
“It was a one-time incident,” Wu said. “We have adjusted the piping system to avoid releasing the wastewater directly into the wastewater barrels.”
However, ASE officials said the company had not received the suspension order from the bureau, so K7 was continuing to operate.
ASE counts contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) and mobile phone chip supplier MediaTek Inc (聯發科) among its major clients.
The K7 plant, which is ASE’s largest wafer bumping facility for smartphone chips, accounted for 10 percent of ASE’s overall revenue, Credit Suisse analyst Randy Abrams said in a note yesterday.
“Impact on customers and sales should be limited,” Abrams said, adding that ASE needed to respond quickly to restore its reputation.