A large number of factories lining a tributary of the Tamsui River (淡水河) have been discharging unprocessed wastewater, leading to excessive levels of cyanide and heavy metals in water, according to an Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) investigation conducted from March to last month.
A section of the Dahan River (大漢溪) near the Sinhai Bridge (新海橋) connecting New Taipei City’s Sinjhuang (新莊) and Banciao (板橋) districts — which is about 3km away from where the Dahan joins the Tamsui River — and a section near the Zhongxiao Bridge (忠孝橋) connecting Taipei and New Taipei City were the only two places along the Tamsui River system where severe pollution was found last year, Department of Water Quality Director Yeh Chun-hung (葉俊宏) said on Friday.
However, this year the EPA identified a “pollution hotspot” in the Taliaokeng River (塔寮坑溪) at Sinjhuang — a tributary of the Dahan that feeds into the Tamsui River.
An investigation by the EPA and the New Taipei City Government found that 45 out of the 70 factories along the Taliaokeng had illegally discharged effluent containing high levels of heavy metals and toxins.
Investigators detected cyanide levels that were 42 times higher than the legal limit in the river, as well as copper concentrations that were 90 times than the legal limit, which exposed fish and humans to great health risks, Yeh said.
Electroplating plants were the worst violators, he said.
Ninety-nine violations were found during the investigation, and the EPA issued fines totaling more than NT$20 million (US$615,347), he said, adding that water quality improved afterward.
“It is very difficult to crack down on illegal wastewater discharge because plants often use hidden pipes to drain wastewater,” Bureau of Environmental Inspection Northern Branch Director Chuang Hsun-cheng (莊訓城) said.
“An electroplating plant whose sewage was responsible for raising cyanide levels in water to 42 times more than the legal limit tried to dilute its sewage with tap water after plant operators spotted environmental agents approaching the plant. However, the agents found that the quality of sewage was too similar to tap water, and they uncovered hidden sewage pipes at the factory,” Chuang said.
“Factories might discharge unprocessed water during typhoons or torrential rains, so it is very difficult to discover violations. Environmental authorities rely heavily on whistle-blowers to identify plants that are engaged in illegal activities,” Chuang said.
A New Taipei City bylaw stipulates that people who inform on water pollution can be awarded up to 20 percent of fines levied against a violating firm, and the reward would be tripled if the informant is a current or former employee of the company, the EPA said.
“About 120 kilometers of river sections in the nation are severely polluted. The Taliaokeng River investigation could be used as a pilot program for further prevention at pollution ‘hotspots,’” Yeh said.
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