Kaohsiung authorities pledge firm response to chemical spill

09/18/2020 09:41 PM
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Officials in Kaohsiung inspect the spill site. CNA photo Sept. 18, 2020
Officials in Kaohsiung inspect the spill site. CNA photo Sept. 18, 2020

Kaohsiung, Sept. 18 (CNA) Kaohsiung's Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) said Friday that it will fine and pursue criminal charges against the renter of an industrial warehouse for allegedly ignoring demands to clean up an ethyl acrylate spill that spread an acrid odor over the city's Niaosong District the previous day.

According to Hsieh Tang-chin (謝唐欽), chief of the district's Niaosong ward, residents of the area awoke Thursday to the sharp, chemical smell, which causes breathing difficulties and a burning sensation in the eyes and throat.

Although the source of the odor was soon found to be coming from a nearby warehouse, Hsieh said the renter, who had previously claimed to be running a solar energy business, had "avoided and ignored" calls to do something about it, forcing environmental authorities to force their way into the property later that day.

The EPB said it responded to reports of the smell early on Thursday and arrived at the site to find piles of chemical mixtures and barrels leaking a pungent, viscous substance that was later determined to be ethyl acrylate, a compound used in paint and textile production.

Speaking to CNA, EPB technician Kao Tsung-yung (高宗永) explained that while ethyl acrylate vapor can cause irritation, it is not classified as a hazardous chemical.

Additionally, the 0.05 percent concentration of vapor measured in the air was vastly below the 1.4 percent concentration at which ethyl acrylate can combust, meaning that there was no danger to the public, he said.

The bureau said it had spread sawdust and oil-absorbent cotton to soak up the spillage pending clean-up and had covered it with tarpaulins to prevent the smell from escaping.

In a statement on Friday, the EPB said it planned to fine the renter of the warehouse under the Air Pollution Control Act and the Waste Disposal Act, which carry penalties of NT$100,000 (US$3,443.65) to NT$5 million and NT$60,000 to NT$300,000 respectively.

The bureau said it will also refer the case to prosecutors to explore the possibility of criminal charges.

Meanwhile, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) promised that the violators would "not be let off easy" and said he planned to meet with prosecutors to discuss a mechanism for requiring investigations of all "significant" environmental violations.

Regarding possible suspects, Ciaotou District Prosecutors Office Prosecutor Cheng Tzu-wei (鄭子薇) said her office was seeking to contact two individuals who were captured on surveillance cameras transporting the barrels in their vehicles.

Cheng said investigators found over 100 barrels of the chemical solvent at the warehouse on Friday, but did not indicate what type of business they believe the suspect was involved in.

Thursday's chemical spill followed an underground leak of ethylene gas that occurred in Kaohsiung's Cianjhen District last Saturday.

Such incidents have a particularly sensitive history in Kaohsiung, where a series of propene gas explosions killed 32 people and injured 321 in Cianjhen and Lingya districts on July 31, 2014.

(By Hung Hsueh-kang, Hou Wen-ting and Matthew Mazzetta)

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