Residents of Mailiao Township (麥寮), Yunlin County, are planning to rally at Formosa Plastics Group’s petrochemical complex tomorrow to reiterate their demand for an immediate halt to operations at the fire-stricken facility. Hsu Liu-pin (許留賓), a township representative, said yesterday that an estimated 300 residents would deliver their appeal to company officials.
Besides demanding a full suspension of operations, Hsu said the protesters would demand that Formosa Plastics Group put forward an evacuation plan so that locals could keep away from danger zones should similar accidents occur again.
Hsu was referring to the two blazes that broke out at the nation’s largest petrochemical complex last week, the sixth and seventh fires there in a year.
Following Monday’s protest by residents of Taisi (台西), Baojhong (褒忠), Dongshih (東勢) and Lunbei (崙背) — all townships surrounding the complex — Hsu said the new protest would be an “ultimatum” to the company.
“If they fail to give us the answer we want, we will launch a long-term battle against them,” he said.
Hsu said the protests would become better organized, larger and more intense until the operations of the complex become impossible.
For instance, Hsu said, local residents would not rule out occupying streets surrounding the complex to enforce massive road closures in the area.
Meanwhile, environmentalists urged the government yesterday to speed up the promotion of higher-value petrochemical production in Taiwan in the wake of the fires at the complex.
Blaming the fires on gas leaks from aging pipelines, the activists said the government should help the industry shift its focus away from a scale-oriented mode of production that tends to put a heavy burden on facilities and equipment.
“It [sectional shutdown] is only healing the head when there’s a headache and healing the foot when the foot aches. We think it [the Mailiao plant] needs a thorough inspection to prevent future problems,” Taiwan Environmental Protection Union Changhua Division deputy-director Tsai Chia-yang (蔡嘉陽) said.
Tsai said the government should take the opportunity to review the policy toward the industry and shut down or shrink the scale of inappropriate plants.
“Only low-value petrochemicals can be yielded under such a practice [of employing larger-scale plants],” said Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), a professor of occupational medicine and industrial hygiene at National Taiwan University. “Taiwan cannot continue with this model because it is both uneconomical and harmful to the environment.”
Instead, Chan said, Taiwan should increase the added value of its petrochemical products at home, while working with global partners to pursue production on a massive scale.
In June, the Ministry of Economic Affairs established a goal of helping the local petrochemical industry increase its value-added rate to 20 percent by 2020.
Before that goal is met, some environmentalists said, the government should also consider the possibility of relocating part of the Mailiao operations to Greater Kaohsiung, where environmental conditions are considered more suitable for concentrated petrochemical production.
“The problems of land subsidence and water shortage are especially severe in central Taiwan,” Tsai said. “The government needs to revise its strategy for national spatial development so that resources can be allocated wisely.”