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Kaohsiung investigates ASE nickel pollution
Chip giant blames mishap, denies scam
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2013-12-10 03:08 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The Kaohsiung City Government investigated Tuesday whether potentially cancer-causing nickel pollution from top chip packaging and testing group Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc. had seeped into farmland.

The city ordered the company’s K7 plant to suspend its operations Monday and fined it NT$600,000 (US$20,000) for releasing wastewater containing heavy metals into the Houjing creek. The authorities reportedly spent NT$3.7 billion (US$125 million) cleaning up the river before the pollution occurred.

If no satisfactory explanation was forthcoming from ASE within two weeks, Kaohsiung said it would shut down the factory.

Environmental Protection Administration Minister Stephen Shen said the central government would try to recover ASE’s illegal profits. He also praised Kaohsiung for taking action against the company and said other city and county governments should follow its example. If local authorities did not do so, the EPA would cut off subsidies, Shen warned.

There also needed to be an investigation into how long the pollution occurred and into whether top managers at the company were aware of the violations, he added.

The city’s Environmental Protection Bureau said tests near the K5, K7 and K11 plants would show whether 900 hectares of farmland had been affected by the pollution discharges. ASE reportedly released 5,000 tons of water per day into the creek, making it the ninth-biggest wastewater discharger in the city.

Environmental inspectors first found unexpectedly high levels of nickel during random tests in the Houjing creek. They traced the pollution back to the Ministry of Economic Affairs-backed Nanci export zone before pinpointing the source as the ASE plant.

The company tried to hide the pollution by offering tap water for EPB inspectors to conduct tests on, reports said. The company denied the allegation, but EPB Director Chen Chin-der slammed it for its behavior, adding that having been fined three times in 2012, ASE had still not mended its ways. Prosecutors said they would investigate whether there had been any conspiracy to hide the pollution.

Inspectors said their tests showed that the company might not have treated the wastewater at all but discharged it straight into the Houjing creek. Water authorities said there were 1,500 hectares of rice fields which would need water from the creek next month, causing fears over the pollution incident.

Excessive consumption of nickel can cause lung cancer and testicle cancer, and fields polluted by the heavy metal might have to lay barren for a while, reports said.

ASE denied it had released the wastewater on purpose, claiming a technical problem was to blame. The problem had been fixed, so there would be no more pollution, the company said. ASE added it would cooperate with local authorities and improve the situation until it corresponded to environmental demands from local and central government.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the company apologized to the public at a news conference. It said that the managers responsible for what it called “the mishandling of the problem” had been disciplined.

The K7 plant reportedly accounts for more than one-third of the sales generated by ASE’s Kaohsiung operations, which by themselves represent 28 percent of the company’ total revenue.

A new Kaohsiung plant, dubbed K14, will be completed by April and should be an energy-efficient chip facility, the company said.

A segment of the hit documentary movie “Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above” showed the Houjing creek in an ugly yellow color, indicating that it might have been heavily polluted, reports said.

Lawmakers said the NT$600,000 fine for ASE was too low, calling for legal changes to raise fines in order to make sure there would be enough money to fund the necessary work on creeks and farmland made necessary by the pollution.

Separately, Changhua County sent more than 200 investigators Tuesday to inspect alleged pollution of the Tatu creek after reports of repeated discharges by wastewater from ten factories, reports said. The investigators mounted raids on 25 locations and hauled in an unspecified number of people for questioning, reports said.

Radars were reportedly used to uncover the location of secret underground pipelines which released the toxic water into nearby ditches and creeks.

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