About 600 residents from Hsinchu County’s Sinpu Township (新埔) yesterday rallied in front of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in Taipei against the discharge of toxic wastewater from two LCD panel manufacturing plants into the Siaoli River (霄裡溪).
“We want our clean Siaoli River back. We refuse to drink toxic wastewater,” the protesters, wearing bandanas with the slogan “protect the Siaoli River” tied on their heads, shouted in front of the two central administration buildings, while waving white flags that also bore slogans demanding a clean Siaoli River.
The Chunghwa Picture Tubes and AU Optronics factories in Longtan Township (龍潭) are on the border of Taoyuan and Hsinchu counties.
They were given permission by the Taoyuan County Government in 2001 to discharge wastewater into the Siaoli River, which flows into Hsinchu County.
However, an EPA environmental impact assessment meeting in September 2008 asked the two plants to discharge their wastewater into the Laojie River (老街溪) in Taoyuan County.
The Taoyuan County Government refused to execute the meeting’s request and the central government did nothing about it, a self-help association from Sinpu said.
It added that the ministry issued a document in March this year that designated the Siaoli River “no longer suitable for drinking water,” and the EPA went along by saying since the river no longer delivers drinking water, it did not violate the EIA meeting’s request to discontinue its wastewater discharge.
During the protest at the ministry, Industrial Development Bureau Deputy Director-General Leu Jang-hwa (呂正華) came out to face the protesters and listened to the self-help association’s demands. However, the protesters asked for higher-ranked officials to make a firm commitment to solve the problem.
After throwing balloons filled with water from the Siaoli River at the ministry, the protestors marched to the EPA building to demand that the administration immediately ban all wastewater discharges by the two companies into the Siaoli River.
“I spend about NT$20,000 on buying clean water in containers each year, because we are afraid of using the polluted groundwater,” a woman in her 60s said.
She added that her family buys about five tanks of water (about NT$70 per tank) every week, because she is afraid to use the possibly toxic water in the area to prepare powdered milk for her infant grandchild.
“It’s not that we like coming to Taipei to protest, but we have no choice,” she said. “We want safe and clean drinking water … In the past, there used to be many fish in the river.”
In response to the protesters’ demands, Hsu Yung-hsing (許永興), director of the EPA’s Department of Water Quality, came out of the building and said the administration would assist the two companies with water quality improvement plans to achieve the goal of 100 percent wastewater recycling as soon as possible.
Unsatisfied with the answer and with no completion date promised, the protesters threw water balloons at the EPA building while shouting that they are determined to protect the Siaoli River, before ending their demonstration at noon.