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Thu, Jan 04, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Radiation haunts Taipei

RESTITUTION After years of lies and cover-ups, Taipei residents who were exposed to radiation while at home or school are demanding the government do more

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Hsu Szu-ming, left, secretary-general of the Radiation Safety and Protection Association, yesterday petitioned the Taipei City Council to amend existing laws to include medical services and treatment for victims exposed to radiation contained in rebar used in the construction of buildings between 1982 and 1984.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei City's Bureau of Health (衛生局) and Bureau of Environmental Protection (環保局) are considering subsidizing the medical bills of people who are hospitalized due to excessive radiation exposure resulting from living in radiation contaminated buildings.

The announcement was made in response to a petition filed by victims and their families, the Association of Radiation Victims (輻射受害者協會) and the Radiation Safety and Protection Association (輻射安全促進會).

The radiation was found to originate in contaminated rebar made by Hsing Jung Iron and Steel of Taoyuan County between 1982 and 1984. The source of the contaminant remains a mystery.

Currently, the city only offers free physical check-ups to people who have lived in radiation contaminated buildings throughout the city's 12 districts, or to children who studied at the radiation-contaminated and now demolished Yung Chun Kindergarten (永春幼稚園) in the Sungshan District.

When the city's first radiation-contaminated building, the Minsheng Villa (民生別墅) in the Sungshan District, was discovered around 20 years ago, the Cabinet's Atomic Energy Council (原委會) attempted to cover it up. The issue wasn't revealed by the media until 10 years later.

Taiwan has recorded 185 radiation-contaminated buildings, with 98 of them located in Taipei. The number of people suspected of being affected is reported to be more than 15,000.

However, little has been done beyond the once-a-year free check-up available to the victims.

In 1996, the city started providing the free check-up to victims whose amount of radiation exposure reached between 1mSv and 5mSv. Similar services are made available to people whose exposure exceeded 5mSv. The amount at which radiation exposure becomes a health hazard is 1mSv.

The two bureaus plan to deliver a special report on the matter to the city council within 10 days. They are also studying the possibility of appointing Municipal Jen-ai Hospital (市立仁愛醫院) as the medical center offering medical services and counseling to the victims and their families.

According to Wang Yu-ling (王玉麟), chairman of the Radiation Safety and Protection Association and a former resident of the Minsheng Villa, yesterday's petition was prompted by the recent death of a 19-year-old teenager who studied at the Yung Chun Kindergarten 15 years ago. "The tragedy has driven those who have been exposed into a panic," Wang said.

The most common symptoms victims suffer are the abnormal development of the thyroid, blood cells, lymphatic glands and genes.

"Because the symptoms don't cause sudden death, many people ignore the fact that complications could trigger lethal consequences," Wang said.

At least 13 people he knows who used to live in radiation-contaminated housing have died of cancer, he said.

A mother, who preferred to be identified as Mrs Cheng, requested that the city offer classes to parents. "I don't know what to say to my daughter when she asks me if she's going to develop some kind of cancer and die," she said.

Mrs Cheng's 12-year-old daughter attended the Yung Chun Kindergarten for a year and is currently a sixth-grader at Yung Chun Elementary School.

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