Public health experts yesterday said the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) should factor in environmental background values, or existing threats, when assessing the health risks posed by development projects.
Chan Chang-chuang (詹長權), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene, recently concluded a study on the health risks facing residents living near Formosa Group’s naphtha cracker plant in Mailiao (麥寮), Yunlin County.
The EPA should factor in health risks that already exist in a community when assessing the risks posed by a new development and should not simply use one in 1 million as the acceptable health risk value, Chan told a Social Welfare, Environmental and Hygiene Committee meeting at the legislature, which was discussing the government’s approach to health risk assessments.
Developers who sought to launch projects in areas where health risks are already prevalent should reduce the scope of their projects to avoid exacerbating the situation, Chan said.
“When a patient is already poisoned, the priority is to reduce the poison levels in his body,” Chan said. “Once the poison level is reduced, you should try not to increase it again.”
“Locations such as coastal areas in western parts of the country already have higher health risks than anywhere in Taiwan,” the professor said.
“One cannot say that this one project will only add a little to the existing risks [in the areas],” Chan said.
At present, regulations only look at the additional health risks a project might pose. However, many people say background values should also be considered, he said.
Former Environmental Protection Administration chief Winston Dang (陳重信) said acceptable values should be determined by considering the health risks posed to women and the children.
In addition, people responsible for establishing the methodology to be used to calculate health risks should not serve on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Committee to avoid conflicts of interest, Dang said.
Gloria Hsu (徐光蓉), who is a professor of atmospheric sciences at the university, said current rules only considered health risks under average weather conditions and failed to take into account the potential health risks associated with extreme weather, which is becoming increasingly frequent.
However, Environmental Protection Administration Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏) said he did not think conflicts of interest would arise if the individuals stipulating the assessment methodologies were EIA committee members.
“As they made the rules, they certainly would know if the correct methodologies were followed,” Shen said.
“What we should review instead is the results,” he said.
Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) said total risks should be the sum of the background value and the threat increase created by a new project.