According to media reports, a fire that broke out due to an explosion on the premises of an SCI Pharmtech factory on Dec. 20 resulted in one death and many injuries, with the blaze affecting four other factories in the area.
A second explosion occurred on the same floor of the factory building at noon the following day, while firefighters were still trying to bring the fire under control.
The second explosion left many locals concerned about water and air pollution, while the head of the third firefighting division for the Taoyuan Fire Department at the scene expressed anger at the company owners for apparently concealing highly flammable sodium on the premises, putting the lives of firefighters at risk.
Almost 200 firefighters were required to control the blaze caused by the two explosions, which spread over 34,000m2 of the factory. In addition to putting the lives of the firefighters at risk, the disaster highlighted how hazardous some of the chemicals stored in pharmaceutical plants in Taiwan are.
If the factory operator was not storing these in line with legal requirements, or if the competent authorities had failed to carry out the appropriate safety checks and implement control measures, they could be responsible for placing the lives and personal property of local residents in serious jeopardy.
According to an investigation by the Taoyuan Environmental Protection Bureau after the fire broke out, SCI Pharmtech had applied to use more than 44 toxic substances.
Fortunately, all of these hazardous chemicals were stored in a building behind the factory security guard post, and the fire did not reach this building. If it had, and there had been an explosion in that building, the consequences, in terms of loss of life and environmental damage, would have been unthinkable.
Taiwan’s steady economic growth has been met with approval from the international community, but in pursuing this economic growth, environmental hazards and the importance of maintaining public safety have often been ignored.
How to prevent and mitigate this issue, which weighs heavily on the public’s mind and threatens people’s quality of life, cannot be left up to government departments alone, nor can the nation rely on the levying of heavy fines after the fact to prevent similar accidents.
If the nation is to ensure that environmental and public safety are maintained, all of society needs to be engaged, especially the companies, which need to take responsibility for the maintenance of factory safety on a day-to-day basis more seriously.
Chang Sue-chung is a chair professor at Hungkuo Delin University of Technology.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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