Residents of Taisi Township (台西) in Yunlin County on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Formosa Plastics Group, demanding NT$70 million (US$2.16 million) in compensation for alleged health hazards caused by the group’s naphtha cracker complex in Mailiao Township (麥寮).
A legal team headed by lawyer Thomas Chan (詹順貴) representing 74 Taisi residents with cancer filed the civil suit against Formosa Petrochemical, Formosa Plastics, Nan Ya Plastics, Formosa Chemicals and Fibre and Mailiao Power, Chan told a press conference in Taipei yesterday.
Residents are seeking NT$70.17 million in compensation for medical expenses, lost earning capacity, mental anguish and funeral expenses related to diseases caused by pollutants emitted by these operators, Chan said.
The suit is the first in the nation to base its claim on academic research on environmental health hazards, he said, stressing the difficulty of proving a causal relation between residents’ medical condition and the complex’s operations.
A test conducted by National Taiwan University professor Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權) in 2012 showed that the cancer incidence rate of residents living within 10km of the plant from 2008 to 2010 was 4.07 times higher than that from 1999 to 2001, Thomas Chan said.
The sixth naphtha cracker began operations in 1998.
There have been 645 reported environmental violations by operators at the plant over the past five years, averaging once every 2.8 days, and the fines collected have reached more than NT$300 million, the lawyer said, adding that the compensation the residents seek is nothing compared with the fines and billions of New Taiwan dollars in revenue that these operators earn.
Showing a photograph of a Taisi resident who died of cancer, a plaintiff named Wu Jih-hui (吳日輝) said that 4.5 people die of cancer caused by the naphtha cracker every day on average.
“How many more people must be sacrificed so the government would step in?” Wu asked.
“My parents and grandparents contracted cancer one after another,” Taisi resident Wu Tung-jung (吳東融) said. “I have been working in Taipei, but I dare not go back to my hometown after I retire.”
“The plant poses a risk to people, but it is legal,” Mingdao University professor and Taisi resident Hwang Yuan-he (黃源河) said. “What we want is basic human rights and judicial relief — the last protection we can resort to.”
Presenting three recent studies on air pollution and the county’s oil refinery industry to Thomas Chan, former Yunlin County commissioner Su Chih-feng (蘇治芬) said the studies are part of ongoing research funded by the county government about the effect the naphtha cracker has on residents.
The legal battle would be a difficult undertaking as the plaintiffs have to bear the legal burden of proof, Su said, adding that existing environmental laws are too slack and the Environmental Protection Administration has not done its job properly.
Changhua County Environmental Protection Union secretary-general Shih Yueh-ying (施月英) said that the health threat posed by the naphtha cracker is not limited to Yunlin.
Residents of Changhua County’s Dacheng Township (大城) have higher levels of possibly carcinogenic heavy-metal pollutants in their urine than those of Yunlin, Shih said, citing a study by Chan Chang-chuan released in April.
Shih questioned whether the Yunlin and Changhua county governments have devised any plan to relocate residents living near the plant, saying the governments must do something for powerless residents.
Thomas Chan called on the central government to set up a cross-municipality pollution control program, as all the cities and counties on Taiwan proper except for Taitung are affected by the naphtha cracker.
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