Residents of Kaohsiung’s Linyuan District (林園) and local politicians yesterday demanded that state-run oil refiner CPC Corp cease operations of its naphtha cracker plant in the district following a fire on Sunday, the fourth such incident at the plant this year.
Flames and black smoke rose from one of the cracker’s flare stacks at around noon, after one of the plant’s compressors malfunctioned and triggered the emergency shutdown system, causing too much exhaust to be channeled into the stack that could not be completely burned off.
The fire lasted for about 90 minutes, with local residents posting images of the burning stack on Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu’s (陳菊) Facebook page, saying Linyuan residents have been suffering from the CPC’s pollution for years, while criticizing the city government’s management.
“Is this what it means to ‘light up Taiwan’ and burn up Linyuan?” an Internet user wrote, in reference to the Democratic Progressive Party’s campaign slogan in January’s presidential and legislative elections.
The Kaohsiung Environmental Protection Bureau fined the plant NT$1 million (US$30,576) — the highest possible fine for violating the Air Pollution Control Act (空氣污染防制法) — saying it was the fourth fire at the plant since February, caused by emergency shutdown of compressors.
The bureau criticized the company for failing to correct the problem, despite repeated accidents, adding that it will increase inspections at the facility.
At a meeting yesterday between company officials and Linyuan residents, borough wardens lambasted the CPC’s safety measures, saying that local residents were fed up with repeated accidents that risk their health and safety.
“Accidents happen very frequently at the plant, about once a month. Residents are worried about whether there would be a large-scale disaster that might put people’s lives at risk,” Linyuan resident Huang Yang-wen (黃揚文) said.
Kaohsiung City Councilor Wang Yao-yu (王耀裕) demanded that the city government suspend operations of the plant and conduct a full inspection to protect local residents, saying that the plant’s operation must be flawed to cause so many safety incidents.
“The NT$1 million fine was nothing for the company, which can easily recover the loss with a slight increase in gasoline prices. The CPC has turned a deaf ear to residents’ and councilors’ repeated complaints,” Kaohsiung City Council Deputy Speaker Cai Chang-da (蔡昌達) said.
CPC Petrochemical Business Division deputy director Huang Chien-hui (黃建輝) said the emergency shutdown is a standard safety measure, but added that the design might be “overprotective” and the company will consult the compressor’s supplier to raise the system’s alert threshold.
Huang Chien-hui said that the company would launch a complete examination of the plant’s facilities and operating systems.
The plant is the nation’s third naphtha cracker. It started operating in 1979 and an extensive facility renewal was completed in 2013, but several accidents have been reported since.
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