Last month, two fires broke out within in an 18-day period at Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s Sixth Naphtha Cracker Plant in Mailiao (麥寮) Township, Yunlin County. The fact that industrial safety at the complex is clearly lacking has left Formosa Plastics Group’s corporate image in tatters and forces us reexamine the myth that economic development brings prosperity.
The problems at the complex run deeper than accidents. When the development first started, the government spent billions of NT dollars on a weir in Jiji (集集) Township, Nantou County, to provide the complex with a direct water supply. During droughts the shortfall of more than 90 percent is taken from irrigation water, which worsens land subsidence.
Another problem is the carbon dioxide emissions from Mailiao’s naphtha cracker and the electricity required to run it, which account for a quarter of the national total. Due to the high levels of air pollution, teachers and students in neighboring schools often need to wear masks in class.
Then there is the retardation of growth in local aquaculture products. In June last year, Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權) of the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene at National Taiwan University linked cancer rates in Mailiao, Taisi (台西), Lunbei (崙背) and Sihhu (四湖) Townships in Yunlin County, as well as Dongshih (東勢) Township in Taichung County, to air pollution from the complex. The incidence of liver cancer in residents of Taisi Township, for example, has increased by 30 percent and that of all cancers by 80 percent.
Yunlin residents have endured serious pollution during the decade the complex has operated. This begs the question: where is the “prosperity” Formosa Group promised when it launched the project?
Back in 1993, Formosa Plastics promised to create a Yunlin branch of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, a nursing home, a nursing college, a bus station, a coastal recreational center, a new town of 150,000 residents and 37,500 jobs. The only one of these promises honored was the local branch of the hospital, but even that hasn’t been finished yet. Formosa Plastics has managed to create just 10,000 jobs, 60 percent of which went to foreign workers. Has anyone looked into this?
In August 1991, then Yunlin County commissioner Liao Chuan-yu (廖泉裕), Yunlin County Council speaker Chang Jung-wei (張榮味), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Yunlin chapter head Hsueh Cheng-chih (薛正直) and Mailiao Township chief Lin Sung-tsun (林松村) visited Formosa Plastics’ head Wang Yung-tsai (王永在) in Taipei to discuss the construction of the Mailiao complex. They said the project would bring prosperity to Yunlin. Shouldn’t they take some of the responsibility?
Today, almost 20 years later in Changhua County across the Jhuoshuei River, Commissioner Cho Po-yuan (卓伯源) is trying to get Kuokuang Petrochemical to set up a plant there, saying it will bring prosperity to Changhua. This is like swallowing the spider to catch the fly. Local residents should be concerned.
Kaohsiung has its own problems with the petrochemical industry. Land, groundwater, and air pollution in Kaohsiung are the worst in Taiwan. Is this the kind of “prosperity” that people in Changhua want?
It is good that the residents of Yunlin are starting to demand that Formosa Group and the government give undertakings that they will keep pollution under control. No amount of money can buy clean soil, water and air, and once the locals start to demand compensation for all this, they will discover that corruption is a more stubborn stain on the landscape than industrial pollution ever was.
Lee Ken-cheng is director of Mercy on the Earth, Taiwan.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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