Sun, Nov 25, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Sites tainted by dioxins: academic

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

More than 300 factory sites nationwide are contaminated with dioxins -- a group of known carcinogens -- tainting the areas around them, including the neighborhood around the notorious Taiwan Alkali Industrial Anshun factory in Tainan, a professor said on Friday.

Yang Yung-nien (楊永年), vice dean of the College of Social Science at National Cheng Kung University, said that a central government official had confirmed the number of dioxin-polluted sites in Taiwan.

Yang declined to disclose the identity of the official and would not say which government department the person worked for.

He commended the government's decision in 2005 to set aside NT$1.3 billion (US$40.14 million) over five years to compensate victims of dioxin pollution near the defunct Alkali Industrial site in a part of Tainan City formerly known as Anshun Township (安順).

However, he was skeptical about what compensation the government would be able to provide if a large number of victims of dioxin pollution come forward.

Yang said that Taiwan was still dealing with dioxin contamination, as reflected by a series of incidents, including the slaughter of tens of thousands of ducks in 2005 in Changhua County after more than 1 million duck eggs were found to contain excessive dioxin levels and the slaughter of 50 sheep in Taipei County's Bali Township (八里) last year after an abnormal level of dioxin was found in mutton.

Dioxins are carcinogens and can cause birth defects, diabetes, immune system abnormalities and many other health problems when exposure is excessive.

The Anshun factory was set up by the Japanese in 1942 to produce hydrochloric acid, caustic soda and liquid chlorine.

The factory became a state-owned company, Taiwan Alkali, one year after Japan's surrender in 1945.

CCP Corp, Taiwan, another state-owned enterprise, bought out Taiwan Alkali in 1967. In 1983, the factory became part of CCP subsidiary China Petrochemical Development, which went private in 1994.

For decades, residents living around the factory grew produce and raised fish in ponds, unaware of the health hazard.

Recently declassified government documents show that the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) took no action after learning in 1982 that mercury concentrations in fish from the area were dangerously high and the fish were not safe for consumption.

At the request of the Tainan City Government, National Cheng Kung University researchers did blood tests on 570 Anshun residents. The results showed that 72 percent of them had dioxin levels in their blood considered unsafe by UN health standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than NT$110 million since 2003 to decontaminate the area and monitor soil conditions and water quality in fish ponds around the site.

In addition, the MOEA in 2005 allocated NT$1.3 billion for use over five years to help the affected residents.

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