After the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) took office last year, epidemiological studies into the naphtha cracker in Yunlin’s Mailiao Township (麥寮) were stopped, academic Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權) said at a forum in Taipei yesterday.
The forum on air pollution, titled “I Breathe, I Decide,” was organized by National Taiwan University’s Risk Society and Policy Research Center and the Fubon Cultural and Educational Foundation.
Chan, who is vice dean of National Taiwan University College of Public Health, said his studies commissioned by the Changhua and Yunlin county governments were concluded last year and in March respectively.
Despite his persistent inquiries about extending the research, the local and central governments have no plans to do so, he said, adding that he is the only academic researching the environmental influence of Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s naphtha crackers.
Last month, Chan published a study about cancer risks in Changhua’s Dacheng (大城) and Jhutang (竹塘) townships, north of the cracker in Yunlin.
The study found that cancer and death rates were correlated with toxic emissions from the plant.
The sour smell that local residents often complain about is from high concentrations of formic acid, a carcinogenic substance, in the air, possibly from the plant, Chan said.
Despite changes of government over the decades, air pollution in Yunlin and Changhua continue to worsen, he said, adding that the locals smell not only the sourness, but also the “intense smell of politics.”
Chan said he had suggested the government choose between closing the plant or closing the nearby Ciaotou Elementary School’s Syucuo (許厝) branch, and the government chose the latter.
“Will the government choose differently this year, either the plant’s closure or the displacement of Changhua’s Dacheng and Yunlin’s Mailiao townships?” Chan asked.
He called on the government to continue epidemiological studies about petrochemical plant emissions, adding that studies should also be undertaken in Taoyuan, Taichung and Kaohsiung and Nantou, Chiayi, Pingtung and Penghu counties.
At the forum, US-based Society for Social Studies of Science Council member Gwen Ottinger said that she advocated “epistemic justice” in the fight against air pollution.
“Epistemic injustice means treating someone unfairly in his or her capacity as knower because of their structurally marginalized identity,” she said.
She encouraged people in polluted areas to gather data and to articulate their “lived experiences of pollution,” to challenge officials’ and experts’ categorization systems.
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