Approximately 500 people protested outside Ta-fa Industrial Park in Kaohsiung County’s Taliao Township (大寮) yesterday, demanding the government find the source of noxious gas that has leaked into nearby elementary and middle schools three times in the past month.
Among the protesters were the parents of pupils attending Chao-liao elementary and middle schools, local residents and students from the schools.
“If an answer [for dealing with the gas] is found we will go back to school, if not we will continue to stay away in case we get poisoned again,” one student said.
School officials said that attendance rates have dropped below 50 percent.
Three gas leaks caused dozens of school children and teachers to be hospitalized on Dec. 1, Dec. 12 and most recently on Thursday.
The affected individuals reported nausea, dizziness and tension in the chest.
Yesterday morning protesters demanded that a waste water treatment plant in the park be shut down, saying that the plant was the source of the gas.
The demonstration in the morning was tense. Because the protesters had gathered without applying for permission, the police demanded they disperse in accordance with the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法).
This drew a heated response from the protesters, who then clashed with police. Some protesters threw rocks at both the plant and the police. One protestor was detained.
“Must someone die before the factories cease operation?” said Taliao Township chief Huang Tian-huang (黃天煌).
The situation calmed when Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) arrived at the site at around 11am.
“The gas came from a factory,” Yang said, adding that the waste water treatment plant was merely a downstream destination of the foul gas.
In the past, the county would ask factory owners to turn themselves in, Yang said. He said that in this case, however, as no factory had admitted fault, the culprit would have to be found by Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) investigaters.
The situation turned tense again in the afternoon when EPA Minister Steven Shen (沈世宏) arrived at the site.
Shen and Yang at one point argued when Shen said that the industrial park should be shut down for investigation.
“How can you say this kind of thing?” Yang asked, saying that Shen should apologize.
The two sat down to discuss the situation later after Shen retracted his statement.
Yang said that three chemical factories were suspected sources of the noxious gas, including one owned by the Chang-chun Group and Polyplastics’ Ta-fa Plant.
The results of the investigation would be released soon, EPA Deputy Minister Chang Tzi-chin (張子敬) said.