Taipei photo exhibit paints picture of village devastated by refinery pollution

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Jun 23, 2013 - Page 3

The stories of the residents of a Changhua County village who say they have been afflicted by pollution created by the Formosa Petrochemical Corp refineries operating 6km south of their homes are being told in a photography exhibition in Taipei that opened yesterday.

Seventy-five black-and-white photographs of moments in the lives of the more than 400 residents of Changhua County’s Taisi Village (台西) and Dacheng Township (大城) are being displayed at the exhibition, titled “Wind from the South” (南風).

The photos depict villagers working in fields, laying down their fishing nets in the sea, or just sitting around, but others show villagers holding large funeral photographs of loved ones — most of whom died of lung cancer or other lung diseases.

“In the summer, when the wind blows from the south, it carries with it the smoke from the chimneys of the petrochemical plants, filling our village with a disgusting smell day and night,” said 70-year-old Hsu Lung-te (許龍德), a Taisi resident who appears in several of the photographs and attended the opening ceremony.

“The government says that the density of toxic substances in the smoke is low and is not damaging our health, but the number of people dying of lung cancer has gone up significantly since the refineries began operating nearly 20 years ago,” Hsu said.

Wei Wen-kao (魏文考), who used to be the best baby eel catcher in the village, said Taisi used to be a very good place to live, “because there is a lot of good, arable land in the village, and we’re also on the coast, so we can make a living from farming or fishing.”

“Before the refineries were built, we had to worry about how we would bring our catch home because it was so big, but nowadays you rarely get anything,” he said.

Hsu Wan-shun (許萬順), a farmer in his 60s, faces a similar dilemma.

“Farming in Taisi is not easy anymore, because the farms are often covered by a layer of dust from the smoke produced by the refineries and carried over by the south wind after it rains,” Hsu said. “Rice, watermelons and vegetables are not growing as well as they used to so we’re earning less money and spending more.”

“But what are we going to do? The government says there is no problem,” he added.

Edd Jhong (鐘聖雄), one of the two photographers who shot the pictures at the exhibition and who is a journalist with the Public Broadcasting Systems, said he first learned about the issue when covering protests against a petrochemical plant that was originally planned to be built in Dacheng.

“Although the plan was later canceled, I felt that I needed to record these people’s suffering,” Jhong said. “It’s depressing to take these pictures and I worry if I am accurately recording and recounting what my subjects want to say.”

The exhibition will run through July 21 at Floor 8 Contemporary Art Space, No. 21, Lane 19, Shuangcheng St, Taipei.