Mon, Aug 16, 2004 - Page 2 News List

EPA tries to cut Ghost Month air pollution

UNSEEN AUDIENCE Kaohsiung officials invited spirits to `withdraw' spirit money offered for them at incinerators, where the smoke can be scrubbed for human lungs

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

With the arrival of the traditional Ghost Month, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) again urged urban residents to burn spirit money at municipal waste incinerators to prevent air pollution.

Yesterday in Kaohsiung City, an unusual ceremony was held at a newly cleaned municipal waste incinerator in Sanmin District.

In an address to the souls of the dead, Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Yao Kao-chiao (姚高橋) sincerely informed roaming ghosts that the incinerator would be the best place for them to "withdraw" spirit money this year.

"We hope residents cooperate to burn all spirit money at the incinerator on the 29th day of the seventh lunar month," Yao said.

Today marks the first day of the seventh lunar month, when traditional beliefs hold that the gates of the afterworld open so spirits can return to visit this world. During this month, people across Taiwan burn a considerable amount of spirit money (also called ghost money) -- paper cut or printed to resemble money and burned as offerings to the dead.

Families set a table with wine, meat and other foods to offer to their ancestors and ghosts from the underworld, particularly for the Ghost Festival on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. The table offerings are followed by burning spirit money, a customary means of thanking deceased ancestors or soothing roaming spirits from the netherworld.

The EPA says that burning spirit money in urban areas causes more concentrated air pollution than in rural counties. Therefore, since last year the agency has encouraged urban dwellers to burn spirit money in municipal waste incinerators.

Taipei City residents last year sent 260 tonnes of spirit money to incinerators. The figure for Taipei County was 100 tonnes, while in Kaohsiung City, the amount was 28 tonnes.

EPA officials said that this year the agency would promote the program in other urban areas, including Hsinchu and Taichung.

The 29th day is the last day of the lunar month, when the gates of hell close. At the ceremony yesterday, residents and Buddhist Masters from Foguangshan Mon-astery also offered incense and chanted to ask the gods' blessings.

Kaohsiung City environmental officials said that last year 109 communities supported central-ized burning, and that 28 tonnes of money paper were burned in the incinerator. They estimated the move prevented about 3 tonnes of air pollutants from being released in the city.

Officials said that the participation of 408 communities in the program this year might boost the amount of centrally burned spirit money to 100 tonnes. A free service is available to deliver spirit money to the incinerator until the scheduled burning date.

Officials said that burning spirit money outdoors causes a substantial amount of air pollution and could result in fines ranging from NT$5,000 to NT$100,000 for residents and NT$100,000 to NT$1 million for factories and companies.

To attract more residents to use the service, officials have arranged for eminent Buddhist masters to be in charge of the month-end burning ceremony, ensuring a successfully delivery of people's respects to the gods.

Environmental officials have also tried to encourage residents to skip the procedure of burning spirit money for the sake of environmental protection.

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