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EPA: Two recent pollution cases to be handled separately
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2013-12-16 06:16 PM
Officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Monday morning that two recent cases involving industrial pollution, the ASE Semiconductor factories in Kaohsiung and a case involving four electroplating factories in Changhua County, both have strong political overtones and will be handled independently by the agency.

A spokesperson for the EPA disclosed that according to agency records its agents handled a total of 384 cases between 2009 and November this year. The total amount of fines levied in those cases, however, was only NT$3.55 million, seemingly a disproportionately small amount in light of the seriousness of some of the cases that have been investigated by the agency. Thus the agency will launch an investigation into whether there has been some sort of collusion between inspectors and manufacturers or whether bribes have been offered to representatives of the agency.

The EPA reportedly delivered a total of 384 inspection reports during the period from 2009 to November 30 this year. These inspections were conducted at facilities of ASE in Kaohsiung and Chungli as well as in Changhua where the electroplating factories are located. Although the companies involved have made billions in illegal profits due to polluting activities, says one source, they have been hit with fines adding up to only NT$3.55 million since 2007.

Chief EPA Inspector Chen Hsien-heng explains that many businesses have the proper effluent treatment facilities in place but choose not to use them in normal operations; local law enforcement agencies have methods they can follow but choose not to employ them; and central authorities do not set proper examples with the policies they put in place. When all these things happen, says Chen, things like the ASE pollution case happen.

In the case of the Changhua electroplating factories, the Changhua County Environmental Protection Bureau and the EPA have long suspected local companies have been dumping effluent into the East-West Number Two and Number Three channels, the two agencies have carried out 10 to 20 inspection yearly with only one disciplinary action to show for their efforts: an order for the Hsiang-he Electroplating Factory to shut down. For the rest of the companies in the area no punishment whatever has been meted out, something Chen labels “absurd.”

Chen says that although inspections of companies in the Changhua electroplating industry have been numerous, agents have been unable to track down the sources of pollution. He cites one example where the switch for the pump to dump effluent into the illegal drainage system was located on the third-floor balcony of the boss’ house next to the factory. Any time inspectors showed up to check on factory operations, someone would go up to the balcony and shut off the switch, then turn it on again once the inspectors were gone.

Chen said another blind spot was that inspectors always sampled the water in nearby drainage ditches to check for pollution. If the levels of heavy metals and other pollutants in the ditch water were within parameters established by the EPA there was no problem and no further inspections were needed. Unfortunately the bosses of three electroplating factories had collaborated to bury pipelines leading to a ditch and discharged effluents only during the night so that it was gone with the sunrise the next day. EPA Minister Stephen Shen was reportedly furious when he was informed of the underground pipeline ruse, telling investigators that they were “not even as bright as elementary school students” and suggesting they have students carry out inspections if they can’t.

Eventually the pipeline outlets were discovered, and agents brought in ground-penetrating radar to trace the buried lines back to the sources.

Jason Chang: Spills at ASE were 'accidental'

Meanwhile ASE Chairman Jason Chang held a press conference Monday afternoon to apologize to shareholders and the public for the unease the news over the leak of polluted effluent from the plant on December 9 has caused. Chang said the spill was inadvertent and was not part of systematic dumping of effluent. He denied that ASE has any hidden underground pipelines installed to carry away effluent and said that he was shocked and saddened when he first heard the news of the leak earlier this month. Chang claimed that both that incident and a spill that occurred October 1 were accidents.

Chang went through a brief history of ASE over the last 30 years and how it has grown from 200 employees to more than 2 million employees and emphasized the close relation between the company and the city of Kaohsiung. He said that the company is a responsible business that has made its way past many obstacles in the past and pledged that with the help of staff and specialists the company will find out the story behind the leaks. He also said that ASE will work with the EPA, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Kaohsiung City Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant units and carry out whatever inspections are required in order for the company to operate in as green a manner as possible in the future.

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