Home / Local News
Sat, Nov 24, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Officials fail to warn about toxin risk

BURNING CHEMICALS Kaohsiung City officials failed to tell the public that smoke released during a fire at a plastic appliance factory could have been poisonous

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Environmental officials were criticized yesterday for their failure to issue a warning to the public that dangerous toxins had possibly been released into the air. The source of the possible release of air-borne toxins was an accidental fire at a Kaohsiung factory where hospital appliances were being manufactured.

The fire broke out early yesterday morning at a factory of Pacific Hospital Supply Co Ltd (太平洋醫材公司) in the Nantze Processing Zone (楠梓加工區) of Kaohsiung City. The three-story building was soon engulfed in flames which were fueled by the highly flammable plastic materials which the appliances are made of.

According to the Kaohsiung City Fire Department, the task of controlling the fire was made more difficult by two separate explosions caused by overheated gas cylinders inside the factory.

Officials of the Environmental Protection Bureau of the Kaohsiung City government had subsequently deployed personnel at the fire scene equipped with instruments designed to measure any possible leakage of toxic chemicals. They were apparently worried about the status of some bottles of toxic ethylene oxide (環氧乙烷) stored inside the factory. Ethylene oxide is commonly used for sterilizing medical equipment and supplies.

The fire smoldered for more than 12 hours yesterday. Bystanders reported that foul odors were emanating from the smoldering debris. One of the manufacturing company's female staff members was sent to a hospital for observation after inhaling smoke.

Environmental officials, however, issued no warning of any potential threat of toxic air pollution.

Toxicologists said that Ethylene oxide, which is highly flammable, poses health hazards that require special attention.

"Inhaling too much Ethylene oxide gas can cause the person to fall into a coma, or even die," Tsai Jin-lian (蔡錦蓮), director of the Poison Control Center of Kaohsiung Medical University, told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Tsai said that the city's environmental department should at least have suggested that residents living downwind from the factory should keep their doors and windows closed to avoid inhaling the foul air.

Tsai suggested that the residents should during the following few days be on the alert for symptoms related to exposure to ethylene oxide gas -- such as lung pains, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and shortness of breath.

The toxicologist said that environmental officials should carry out a follow-up examination to make sure no dangerous materials were vaporized into the air or flushed into the soil by water.

Tsai added that chronic exposure to ethylene oxide was associated with the occurrence of cancer, mutagenic changes, and neurotoxicity.

After inspecting the area's air quality, local environmental officials said that the toxin levels were normal.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Administration issued a press release which claimed that all five bottles of ethylene oxide inside the factory were still intact after the fire.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top