Research links cracker to respiratory problems

HEALTH RISKS::Children living near the sixth naphtha cracker were 1.28 to 3.05 times more at risk of having allergic rhinitis, bronchitis or asthma, an NTU study said

By Lin Hui-chin, Yang Mien-chieh and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Sat, Oct 15, 2016 - Page 4

Pollution caused by sulfur monoxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from the sixth naphtha cracker in Yunlin County is directly related to a higher incidence of children living in the vicinity developing respiratory illnesses, a National Taiwan University (NTU) study showed.

The study, led by Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene professor Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), showed that children living within 10km of the cracker were 1.28 to 3.05 times more at risk of contracting allergic rhinitis, bronchitis or asthma compared with those living outside the 10km radius.

According to the research team, from 2009 to 2011, they conducted tests on 587 children aged 11 to 14 — including 216 children living in high-exposure areas — Mailiao (麥寮), Taisi (台西) and Dongshih (東勢) townships — and 371 residing in low-exposure areas.

The team also referenced the National Health Insurance’s database from 1999 to 2010 for information on reported cases of allergic rhinitis, bronchitis and asthma patients in these areas.

After the sixth naphtha cracker began operations in 1999, allergic rhinitis incidence among children in high-exposure areas rose to 26.9 percent in 2003, 35.7 percent in 2007 and 41.7 percent in 2011, while bronchitis incidence climbed to 8.3 percent, 8.8 percent and 10.2 percent during those years, Chan said.

Ashthma incidence also increased to 18.5 percent, 25 percent and 26.9 percent during that period, he added.

A multivariate analysis found that children in high-exposure areas had 3.05, 2.74 and 1.93 times the risk of developing allergic rhinitis compared with children in low-exposure areas four years, eight years and 12 years after the cracker started commercial operations, the team said.

High-exposure area children were more liable by 2.53 times, 1.92 times and 1.72 times of developing bronchitis during that period, and 1.6 times, 1.28 times and 1.29 times more at risk of contracting ashthma, it said.

Taiwan’s sulfur dioxide emissions standard is set at 250 parts per billion (ppb) per day, which is far more lenient than the WHO’s 10ppb or the US’ 75ppb per hour, Chan said, urging the government to tighten standards to improve public health.

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said that although Taiwan has more lenient emissions standards, most areas across the nation, with the exception of Kaohsiung, would still meet US standards.

Years of regulation and increased control measures have helped bring down sulfur dioxide concentrations in the air, the agency said.

The national sulfur dioxide average per year, which stood at 8.07ppb in 1994, dropped to 3.13ppb in 2005, it said.

From 2013 to last year, only Kaohsiung, at 77ppb per hour, exceeded US standards, it said.

Yunlin County’s Douliou City (斗六) only saw an hourly average of 15.5ppb, while Lunbei (崙背) and Mailiao townships averaged 22.1ppb and 39.2ppb respectively during the same period, it added.