The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday unveiled the results of its investigations into electric plating and metal coating factories that illegally discharge unprocessed toxic effluents into local waterways in Changhua County, with 22 plants being ordered to suspend operations and 30 people indicted.
EPA Bureau of Environmental Inspection Director-General Hsiao Ching-lang (蕭清郎) said Changhua was chosen because it is where the problem is most rife.
He said that after stakeouts by prosecutors and bureau officials, 35 plants suspected of illegally dumping wastewater were inspected, of which 24 were to found to have violated wastewater discharge rules, 22 were ordered to suspend operations and 30 people were prosecuted.
Hsu Cheng-hsiung (許正雄), head of the Environmental Inspection Central Branch Division, said that as a result of the inspections, flora can now be seen along the once barren riverbanks and fish have returned to the local east-west irrigation canal.
The canal had been so polluted that it drove away even the channeled apple snail, which is an invasive alien species, he said.
Wastewater as a result of electric plating and metal coating contain a range of toxic substances, including copper, zinc, nickel, chromium and cyanide, Hsu said.
Changhua District Prosecutors’ Office prosecutor Kao Ju-ying (高如應) said that farmers who are exposed to toxic wastewater could develop skin allergies, while the toxic substances accumulated in the soil could enter people’s bodies through freshwater fish and crops.
Kao criticized a ruling handed down by the Kaohsiung District Court, which fined Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Group NT$3 million (US$94,455) for dumping massive quantities of wastewater into the Houjin River (後勁溪), saying that the punishment was not severe enough to discourage future violations.
The verdict met with generally negative reactions from the public when it was announced, with many saying that it was only a slap on the wrist.
He said that illegality comes in many forms, for example dumping wastewater in the early morning and rinsing the outlet pipes before and after the discharges to dodge inspections, and discharging wastewater during high tides, when the pipes are submerged in water.
Hsiao touted the results of the inspections, saying that 95 percent of the samples conducted over the past six months yielded results indicating safe water quality, as opposed to 81 percent before the inspections.
He said that the EPA this year launched more than 6,000 probes on more than 2,000 such plants across the nation, and found more than 600 violations.
Greater Taoyuan, where illegal wastewater discharge is also rampant, will be the agency’s next focus, Hsiao said.
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