Campaigners urge air pollution bylaw

VOLATILE::People living near naphtha crackers have said they are concerned for their health due to high air pollution levels, which has been linked to various cancers

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 3

Residents of Changhua and Yunlin counties yesterday gathered in front of the Presidential Office Buiilding to petition the central government to authorize local governments to legislate bylaws to regulate coal burning to curb air pollution.

Holding placards and photographs of deceased family members, dozens of people shouted: “No more obstruction to coal burning ban” and “shut down the [Mailiao] naphtha cracker by 2020” and “people have the right to clean air.”

The Yunlin County Government announced a ban on the burning of petroleum coke and coal in June, following an oath-taking in April by government heads of Yunlin and Chiayi counties and Chiayi, Tainan, Taichung and Chunghua cities in April to phase out petroleum coke and coal to fight air pollution.

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in September rejected the ban, saying that it involved national energy policies and regulations that fall within the jurisdiction of the central government, according to the Energy Administration Act (能源管理法) and the Local Government Act (地方制度法).

Changhua resident Chiang Shang-chien (江尚謙) said of the EPA’s rejection of the Yunlin ban: “Either local governments do not exercise the legal weapons they have, or the central governments offsets local governments’ attempts to combat air pollution.”

Hwang Yuan-her (黃源河) a Mingdao University professor and resident of Taixi Township (台西) in Yunlin, said that Singapore has banned petroleum coke from its oil refinery industry, adding that developed countries are phasing out fuels that cause high emissions.

She said she would urge the government to follow suit and clamp down on polluting industries.

Meanwhile, campaigners said that the Formosa Plastics Group’s naphtha cracker in Yunlin’s Mailiao Township (麥寮) is one of the nation’s largest contributors of PM2.5 pollution — airborne particles measuring 2.5 micrometers or less — and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), possibly increasing the incidence of cancer among local residents.

National Yunlin University of Science and Technology chemistry professor Lin Chuen-chang (林春強) said that VOCs pose a higher health risk than PM2.5 and could cause a variety of cancers, adding that Yunlin and Changhua residents absorb 10 times more VOCs than people living in Taipei.

A Yunlin bylaw to regulate VOCs emissions was submitted to the EPA for approval in March, but the EPA has yet to review it, Lin said, calling for the EPA to promptly pass the bylaw.

“The government allows businesses to discharge carcinogenic pollutants if they pay taxes, which would be tantamount to legalizing murder. Taiwan would become a ‘ghost island’ if the government continues to ignore air pollution issues,” Yunlin resident Wu Jih-hui (吳日輝) said.

Protesters demanded that the government make public all the pollution monitoring data of the naphtha cracker, include local residents and environmental groups in the supervision committee of the cracker complex and refrain from blocking bylaws that ban burning of petroleum coke and coal.