Tue, May 15, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Protesters call for more information on chemical risks

TAOYUAN BLAZE:Last month’s fire highlighted loopholes and safety flaws in the current regulations governing hazardous chemicals, protesters said

By Ann Maxon  /  Staff reporter

Members of the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights, the Green Citizens’ Action Alliance and other groups protest outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday to call for new laws to require factory owners to inform the government, fire departments and local residents of hazardous chemicals at their facilities.

Photo: CNA

A coalition of labor and environmental groups yesterday protested outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei to demand that the government pass laws requiring factory owners to inform the government, fire departments and area residents of hazardous chemicals stored at their factories.

The protest began an hour after the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee began a meeting to review current policies on chemicals control and disaster prevention in the wake of last month’s fire at a Chin-Poon Industrial Co factory in Taoyuan that killed six firefighters and two Thai employees.

Representatives of the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights, the Migrants Empowerment Network in Taiwan (MENT), the Green Citizens’ Action Alliance and other groups called on the government to increase protection for firefighters, people living near chemical factories and the environment.

Last month’s fire took a heavy toll on the Taoyuan Fire Department because the firefighters were given limited information on the hazardous chemicals stored at the factory before going inside, association advisor Cheng Ya-ling (鄭雅菱) said.

“Although the Ministry of the Interior has promised to increase inspections of factory chemicals, it has not explained how it could possibly do so given that fire departments nationwide face a personnel shortage estimated to be at 50 percent,” she said.

The majority of firefighters are overworked, given 360 to 480 hours a month with a schedule of “a 24-hour shift every other day,” or “a 48-hour shift after every rest day,” she said.

“How could the government carry out more safety inspections without further overworking them, especially in areas with lots of factories such as Taoyuan and Hsinchu?” Cheng said.

Besides finding ways to improve factories’ management of their chemicals, the government should also require factory owners to inform fire departments of hazardous substances in their factories and their locations, as well as sending personnel to assist firefighters at the scene, she said.

“Factories should be fined if they fail to do any of the above and they should be subject to criminal penalties if a fire causes deaths,” Cheng added.

Fires at factories in the past several months have killed not only firefighters, but several migrant workers, MENT representative Wu Ching-ju (吳靜如) said.

Migrant workers should not be living in dormitories connected to factories, she said.

“Those forced to live at factory complexes continue to be exposed to dangers they face at work. This also increases the risks for firefighters, who must rescue those trapped in dormitories,” Wu said.

The government must work with local communities to establish detailed criteria for determining what information regarding public hazards factories should be required to give to nearby residents, including lists of hazardous substances stored at such facilities, Green Citizens’ Action Alliance deputy secretary-general Hung Shen-han (洪申翰) said.

Residents have the right to know and the Environmental Protection Administration’s Toxic and Chemical Substances Bureau should establish a mechanism to give the public access, he said.

“I hope the government can understand what firefighters, migrant workers and residents who live near factories really need,” National Association for Firefighters’ Rights secretary-general Chu Chih-yu (朱智宇) said.

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