An ad hoc Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) committee meeting yesterday concluded that a fire which broke out at Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s Sixth Naphtha Cracker in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township (麥寮) in July 2010 had a negative impact on the surrounding environment and that the company must outline its response strategies in light of the case.
The meeting was held using information based on the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法) and the committee requested that Formosa Petrochemical Corp present an environmental impact investigation report on the accident. It added that the conclusions drawn from the findings of a third ad hoc committee meeting which took place in March require that the company come up with a response strategy for possible future accidents.
However, the EIA committee said the causal relationship of the accident and the negative impact on the nearby environment was unclear and needed to be discussed further.
Before the meeting took place at the Environmental Protection Administration, several representatives from civic environmental protection groups, academics and local aquaculture farmers held a protest in front of the building.
The activists and aquaculturalists presented evidence arguing that the collective mass death of ducks and fish near the plant after the fire was suspected to be connected to pollution created by the accident.
Taiwan Water Conservation Alliance spokesperson Chen Jiau-hua (陳椒華) said about 2,500 ducklings at a nearby duck ranch died en masse on the morning of July 27 and they believe the deaths were directly related to the acidic dust which was released after 584 tonnes of heavy oil were ignited during the accident.
“The fire burned for almost three days and the duck ranch was located to the east of the plant with winds blowing from the southwest during those days,” Chen said, adding that a heavy rainfall occurred around 1am on July 27, just hours before the sudden death of the ducklings.
A member of the Changhua Medical Alliance for Public Affairs Yang Joe-ming (楊澤民), said that according to the EPA’s monitoring data from that period, levels of PM2.5 (particles under 2.5 micrometers in diameter), as well as damaging ozone, exceeded regulated standards in both Chunghua and Yunlin Counties by 16 and 11.1 times respectively.
During the meeting, Formosa Petrochemical Corp said its investigation into air quality, water monitoring and soil quality, as well as tests for heavy-metal in fish and crustaceans raised near the plant, showed that pollutant levels were all within regulated standards and that there was no scientific evidence to prove the animals’ deaths were caused by pollution from the plant.
However, Yunlin County Government’s Agriculture Bureau said excess amounts of heavy metal substances — up to five times the level that can kill rats in laboratory tests — were found in aquatic products.
Two local aquaculture farmers who raise Taiwan tilapia and clams said large amounts of their water-based livestock died after the incident, but the company was not willing to compensate them for their losses because they could not bring any scientific evidence to prove their case.
Yunlin County Deputy Commissioner Shih Keh-he (施克和) said the Supreme Administrative Court had already ruled that the accident had caused severe air pollution and so the company should stop shirking its responsibilities by saying it had caused no harm to the environment.
The meeting concluded that the company still has to provide a strategy which would include various environmental monitoring procedures.