Thu, Jan 08, 2009 - Page 2 News List

EPA admits source of gas leaks may never be found

WHODUNNIT? Although Steven Shen said that a company had been ‘strongly linked’ to a particular leak, there could be multiple sources of the noxious gases

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The source of four toxic gas leaks in Kaohsiung County’s Taliao Township (大寮) may never be identified, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday said, adding that what is more important is that future incidents do not occur.

“It is difficult to identify the culprits for what has happened in the past … Identifying the culprit is something [the EPA] cannot be certain about,” EPA Minster Steven Shen (沈世宏) told a press conference.

There were four toxic gas leaks last month when odorous gases allegedly emitted from Ta-fa Industrial Park in Kaohsiung County’s Taliao Township affected nearby Chaoliao elementary and middle schools. Dozens of students and teachers were hospitalized and treated for nausea, dizziness and chest pains.

After the latest incident on Dec. 25, the schools’ attendance rates dropped below 50 percent.

Shen said that among the seven “suspects” that could have contributed to the gas leaks — including two chemical container washing plants and five chemical plants — “all of them are still considered possibilities.”

Shen however said that Ret-Ser Engineering Agency’s (RSEA) Tafa waste processing plant is “strongly linked” to a gas leak that occurred on Dec. 1 and as the plant had also been found to have fraudulently documented its waste treatment procedures from Dec. 28 to Jan. 2, and failed to replace its activated coal filter, the EPA will suggest to Kaohsiung County that it be penalized by being shut down.

“Although the plant has closed voluntarily now, the EPA will still suggest that the Kaohsiung County Government mandate that the factory cease operations so that its reopening will require an evaluation process done by the county’s environmental protection bureau,” he said.

RSEA is one of three factories among the seven identified suspects to have suspended operations since the incidents.

Asked if their shut-down would make the identification process even more difficult, Shen said, “Yes.”

According to Shen, following the first gas leak on Dec. 1, RSEA shut down its plant and did not begin operating again until after another leak on Dec. 12.

“We are still investigating if other events [at the RSEA] plant could have occurred to cause [the leak on Dec. 12], or if other factories were to blame,” he said.

When asked yesterday if by suggesting the shutting down of the RSEA plant he was singling out a “culprit,” Shen said that all seven factories were possibly responsible, adding that there may have been multiple sources for the gas leaks.

“What is important is that [these leaks] do not occur again,” Shen said.

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