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Naphtha cracking plant linked to cancer risk in Changhua village

2017/04/27 15:59:46

Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權)

Taipei, April 27 (CNA) The cancer risk in a Changhua village has been confirmed to be linked to a naphtha cracking plant in neighboring Yunlin County, according to the results of a research project published Thursday.

The research focuses on residents of Changhua's Dacheng Township and neighboring Chutang Township, north of Formosa Plastics Group's sixth naphtha cracking plant.

It was found that the risk of cancer in Dacheng's Taishi village, about eight kilometers from the plant in Yunlin's Mailiao Township, was one in 1,000 between 1999 and 2007, while the rate rose to 8.44 in 1,000 for the 2008-2014 period, the research team said at a news conference.

The research was carried out by a team led by Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), vice dean of National Taiwan University's College of Public Health, from 2014-2016. The team was commissioned by Changhua's Public Health Bureau and the National Health Research Institutes.

Considering the latency of nine years for cancer and taking out personal factors that could lead to cancer -- including smoking and drinking -- the research team said that the risk of cancer for Taishi villagers was found to be 2.66 times higher than residents in other villages in Dacheng Township since 2008, the 10th year of operations of the naphtha cracking plant.

It was also found that the cancer risk for Taishi villagers was 2.29 times higher than those in neighboring Chutang Township, the team said.

The research found that "new cancer cases among Taishi residents were apparently related to the operations of the sixth naphtha cracking plant," Chan told reporters.

Household registration information shows that Taishi has a population of about 1,300, although the number of people actually living there is said to be only about 400.

The research team analyzed the health of 1,934 people with an average age of 59 and calculated the cancer risk among them.

Meanwhile, the research shows that the amount of heavy metals, such as vanadium, chromium, nickel, copper, arsenic, cadmium, thallium and lead in the urine of residents from Dacheng Township's Taishi and Tingchuang villages (both about eight kilometers from the plant) were higher than among residents in Chutang, about 20 kilometers from the plant.

The research team also found that a sour, sticky smell that Taishi residents often complain about came from high concentrations of formic acid, also possibly from the naphtha cracking plant.

Although it has yet to determine which chemicals are behind the increase of cancer cases in Taishi, substances associated with formic acid are likely to cause chronic diseases or cancer, Chan said.

Yeh Yen-po (葉彥伯), head of Changhua's Public Health Bureau, said his county is carrying out a program to conduct follow-up checks on the health of residents with high concentrations of heavy metals in their urine, including tests for liver and lung cancer.

In response, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said it has dispatched surveillance vehicles to monitor the air quality near the plant. The monitoring will last for at least six months to determine if the plant is releasing hazardous levels of pollutants, it added.

The EPA noted that it conducted a check of the plant's smokestack last December, but found nothing unusual, adding that it will carry out another check soon.

It also said that it will draft an act aimed at regulating levels of hazardous air pollutants.

(By Chen Wei-ting, Yu Hsiao-han and Elaine Hou)