Wed, Jan 27, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Water officials fume over Tainan chemical report

WHOSE STANDARDS?An environmental group said chemical levels in underground water near Wushantou Reservoir are too high to meet drinking water standards

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTER

Officials from the state-run Taiwan Water Corp yesterday condemned a group of Tainan environmentalists for saying chemical pollutants, including a cancer-causing agent, had been found in underground water supplies near a Tainan-area reservoir.

The remarks came after officials from the Tainan branch of the non-profit Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (TEPU) said on Monday that according to a previously unpublished investigation undertaken by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), underground water from four of twelve wells in areas surrounding Wushantou Reservoir (烏山頭水庫) tested positive for chemicals ranging from chloromethane to arsenic, citing documents obtained by the organization.

Calling the group’s comments “unprofessional and biased,” and blaming it for causing panic among residents, company president Chen Fu-tien (陳福田), speaking alongside EPA Deputy Director Chang Tzi-chin (張子敬), said that the reservoir’s water stores were completely safe because the company did not source its water from underground supplies.

Chen said that the main source of water for Wushantou Reservoir was run-off water from nearby ­hydro-generating plants in the Zengwun Reservoir (曾文水庫).

The TEPU said on Monday that eight of the 20m to 30m deep wells investigated were 0.5km upriver, while the other four were in the reservoir’s immediate vicinity.

Three of the samples tested positive for chloromethane, a heavily flammable toxic chemical, while traces of toluene and arsenic were also found.

However, it was unclear if the pollutant levels exceeded EPA regulations. The agency sets standards for water in reservoirs and for drinking water that are different from standards for groundwater.

While the TEPU compared pollutant levels against the strict criteria set for drinking and reservoir supplies, EPA officials said that the sampled water sources were instead regulated as normal underground water supplies.

There is a large discrepency between the two. The maximum amount of toluene allowed in drinking water is 1mL per liter compared to 10mL per liter for normal groundwater. Similarly, chloromethane levels are 0.03mL per liter and 0.3mL per liter respectively.

Using the agency’s standards for groundwater, none of the chemical levels exceed regulations except for arsenic, which was sampled at 0.0565mg per liter, higher than the 0.05mg per liter groundwater standard and the 0.005mg per liter drinking water standard.

Sources at the agency confirmed that the findings were the result from an investigation undertaken by the agency in November. The results were only published yesterday evening in response to queries by reporters.

TEPU officials said yesterday that they were uncertain how the non-naturally occurring pollutants entered the water supply. However, they said that according to local citrus farmers in the area, heavy-duty trucks had been seen trawling up narrow roads in the past three months.

Cheng Hsiu-ju (鄭秀如), a TEPU official that worked on the investigation, said residents suspected that a local landfill operator — the only known user of heavy-duty trucks in the area — was illegally dumping waste into the water.

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