The Yunlin County Government on Wednesday issued a NT$1 million (US$31,460) fine to Formosa Plastics Group after allegations that a gas leak at its massive petrochemical complex sickened almost 100 people.
The county’s Environmental Protection Bureau also cited the Air Pollution Prevention Act (空氣污染防制法) in ordering a naphtha cracker in the complex to halt operations.
An odor filled the air on Thursday last week in Mailiao Township (麥寮) and neighboring Taisi Township (台西), home to the group’s petrochemical complex, which comprises more than 60 factories.
Sixty-three students and teachers at five public elementary schools reported dizziness and nausea, the county government said.
The number of sick had increased to 85 by the next day, the county said.
On Monday, Taisi Township again reported a strange odor, with 10 elementary school students and teachers seeking treatment.
“Luckily, they all recovered after being taken to hospitals for medical treatment,” a county official at the Education Department said.
Local media cited the bureau as saying its investigation found that Monday’s odor was due to botched procedures at a naphtha storage tank numbered T8506.
Inspectors detected abnormally high concentrations of propane and sulfur dioxide at the plant, with propane concentrations several times higher than the acceptable level, and sulfur dioxide concentrations of 311 parts per billion (ppb), above the allowable maximum of 250 ppb.
Bureau director Lai Tung-hung (賴東鴻), however, said the final report on the investigation into the cause of the odor and illnesses would not be available for another week.
Formosa Plastics said that the tank did not contain either of the chemicals in question, adding that gas samples from the factory and areas around the tank also proved normal.
The conglomerate criticized the county for blaming the petrochemical complex for the odor without publicizing the results of its probe.
“It’s not fair to issue an accusation without data,” a spokesman for the enterprise said.
In July, two fires broke out at the petrochemical complex, causing a great deal of damage to agricultural production and igniting residents’ anger over long-term air pollution they said was a result of operations at the complex.