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Sat, Jul 29, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Toxic chemical dumping cases tip of the iceberg

WHAT A WASTE The Kaoping River dumping incident has focussed attention on the disposal of dangerous chemicals into the environment

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Environmental Protection Administration personnel inspect waste that was dumped under Sanying bridge, Taipei County.

FILE PHOTO N

The Kaoping River (高屏溪) incident that was reported to police in southern Taiwan on July 14 has heightened awareness of the problems caused by illegal dumping.

Three truck drivers hired by a licensed waste-handler had, on the previous day, dumped 25 tonnes of toxic chemical solvents, including xylene (二甲苯), which polluted the drinking water to three million residents in the Kaohsiung metropolitan area.

The 23 million residents of Taiwan did not realize that they had been living in communities at risk until prosecutors investigating the environmental crime announced that the toxic solvents dumped in the Kaoping River was just one incident among many.

Prosecutors said that about 13,500 tonnes of such toxic waste generated by Eternal Chemical Company (長興化工) had been dumped secretly by transportation contractors hired by the waste handler Shengli (昇利) since 1997.

Prosecutors added that another 4,000 tonnes of toxic solvents produced by other companies were also dumped illegally by Shengli.

Prosecutors said that Shengli was involved in illegal dumping "everywhere" including Taichung, Taoyuan and Taipei counties and in central and northern Taiwan. But it was unclear how many other waste-handlers were still doing so.

According to the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), only 40 percent of the 1.47 million tonnes of the hazardous industrial waste generated annually in Taiwan was properly treated, due to the scarcity of legal waste-handlers.

Officials said, however, that it was difficult to trace all industrial waste because some companies and waste-handlers gave the EPA inaccurate information.

Currently, neither the EPA nor the Industrial Development Bureau has been able to trace all the missing hazardous waste.

According to sources, truck drivers dumping hazardous waste illegally can command huge fees. They charge NT$8,000 for each tonne of hazardous waste, which means that a driver dumping three truckloads a day could make as much as NT$9 million a month.

Environmentalists, worried that the main rivers in central and northern Taiwan might have been heavily polluted, questioned the value of licensing waste-handlers.

"If the business was so lucrative, why was it monopolized by a limited number of waste-handlers?" said Lin Sheng-chung (林聖崇), head of Taiwan Greenpeace.

Lin said that the key point has nothing to do with technology, which is easily imported from advanced countries.

"It's obvious that you cannot be licensed unless you have good relations with both political figures and local organized crime," Lin said.

Paydirt

Concerns about an uncontrolled toxic waste crisis started to surface in environmental circles in the 1970s, when Taiwan's economic miracle began, and during which environmental concerns were sacrificed for the pursuit of profit.

The government encouraged the establishment of both small and medium-sized chemical companies, owned by investors who were unwilling to spend money on pollution prevention equipment. At the same time, environmentally-centered regulations on these profiteering industries were lax.

Much of the environmental legislation drafted in Taiwan -- which has been largely transplanted from the US -- introduced pollution control and waste management regulations on the basis of the kind of pollution -- air, water or land. The legislation lacked measures for dealing with pollutants at their source.

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