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FPG plant can remain in operation despite known pollution: EPA

2010/05/13 21:10:03

Taipei, May 13 (CNA) The Environmental Protection Administration(EPA) confirmed Thursday the existence of pollutants in the areaaround Formosa Plastic Group's (FPG's) Jenwu plant, but said thecomplex is not subject to forced closure because the origin of thecontamination had yet to be identified.

The decision drew bipartisan criticism, with both ruling andopposition legislators demanding that the EPA speedily locate thesource of the pollution and take severest punitive action against theconglomerate.

"You claim that the plant might not be the source of thepollution and so does not need to be shut down. But that is notenough, because the important thing is to quickly find out the reasonfor the contamination and to stop it, " said Cheng Li-wen, a rulingKuomintang lawmaker, at a legislative Social Welfare andEnvironmental Hygiene Committee meeting that day.

Also speaking at the meeting, Democratic Progressive PartyLegislator Tien Chiu-chin argued that the plant should ceaseoperation at once until a full environmental impact and health riskassessment has been conducted.

Tien warned that the imminent rainy season will furtherexacerbate the area's water pollution and urged the government tomove quickly to rectify the problem.

The Jenwu plant was established in 1973 and FPG admittedthat it knew in 2002 the plant had been releasing toxins into theunderground water around its complex but did not notify theauthorities or adopt the necessary emergency contingency measures.

The issue was not brought to the EPA's attention until 2008.Since then, FPG has taken steps to curb further pollution, accordingto the company.

EPA Minister Stephen Shen, however, vowed to slap FPG with aheavy fine under the Administrative Punishment Act. The final figureis still being calculated but will be based on the money made by theplant during the period the pollution, he said. The amount isestimated to be anywhere between NT$38 million and NT$150 million.

FPG is Taiwan's largest diversified industrial conglomerate andconsists of 35 subsidiary companies, including Formosa PetrochemicalCorp., the nation's only publicly traded oil refinery, and FormosaPlastic Corp., the nation's biggest and the world's second-biggestmaker of polyvinyl chloride.

After conducting its own study, environmental advocate groupMercy on Earth concluded that the contamination created by the planthas spread and has continued to expand to nearby residential areasand farmland -- an allegation that was rebutted by the EPA.

Tsai Hung-the, executive secretary of the Soil and GroundwaterRemediation Fund Management Board said that while the EPA's ownexperts have confirmed that the pollutant is in the area, they have found that the level of pollution has not worsened.

It is still not known who is responsible, Tsai added.

According to Mercy on Earth, 19 of 32 samples collected from 13sites within and outside the complex had amounts of toxic chemicalssuch as 1,2-dichoroethane and vinyl chloride far surpassing maximumlegal levels.

In one well in the area, the amount of 1,2-dichoroethane, a knowncarcinogen, was 23,600 times higher than the permissible amount,while the same chemical was also detected in another well located innearby Wuhe Village, said the group.

Several lawmakers also lambasted the EPA for failing to providethem with the necessary information until shortly before thecommittee meeting, raising questions about the administration'smotivation for temporarily withholding the data.

(By Jenny W. Hsu)