Homei farmers keep shouldering burden of contaminated crops

HELPLESS::Farmers have been powerless to protect themselves against the contamination, with the government failing to get to the root of the problem

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Mon, Oct 07, 2013 - Page 3

Changhua County farmers accused the government of incompetence in a crisis after more rice paddies in the county were found with heavy metals last week.

In March, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) found that 29 rice paddies (5.9 hectares) in Changhua were polluted with zinc, chromium, nickel, copper and other toxic heavy metals, exceeding regulatory standards.

Following the discovery, the EPA expanded the inspection number to 398 rice paddies (314 hectares) near the polluted site in July. Test results released on Friday showed 223 rice paddies have been polluted by the toxic heavy metals zinc, chromium, nickel and copper. Six among them, totaling 44 hectares were even polluted by cadmium.

More than 200 hectares of rice paddies near Homei Township (和美) were found contaminated by toxic cadmium in 2002, with contamination found again in 2006.

At a seminar held by the EPA at Homei on Saturday, several farmers criticized the government for not identifying the source of the pollution nor solving the problem after so many years.

“If you find the source of the pollution, is it not possible for [the government] to make the factory move away?” a farmer surnamed Lee (李) said. “If you do not find the source of pollution and always make farmers take the blame, then the whole nation will think rice grown from Homei is contaminated.”

Other farmers also complained about being the victims of pollution, but taking the blame for growing contaminated rice. They also accused the government of informing them too late — after they had harvested the first-season rice — forcing them to destroy their crops.

The farmers said the government asked them to temporarily abandon their paddies, but then further pollution occurred.

Changhua County Environmental Protection Bureau Director Liu Yu-ping (劉玉平) said soil pollution can come from a number of sources. For farmlands, it is mainly from polluted irrigation water, including industrial wastewater or household wastewater.

“Identifying the source of soil pollution in a large area is more difficult than for a single piece of land,” he said. “But the bureau will continue to conduct more inspections on wastewater from factories near the area.”

Liu said one solution is to plan for wastewater from all factories in the area to be collected by specialized pipes for treatment.

The bureau said farmer compensation will be awarded by the year’s end.