Residents in the area of a petrochemical processing plant in Taiwan's western Yulin County are at risk for exposure to several toxic air pollutants that can cause various diseases, including cancers, according to a report by researchers from the National Taiwan University.
The comprehensive research on the impact of Formosa Plastics Group's naphtha cracker No. 6, released in July 2012, found that among the pollutants to which residents are likely to be exposed is the carcinogenic and liver-damaging vinyl chloride, which is an essential raw material in the manufacturing of PVC and other plastic products.
The findings echo those of the US Environmental Protection Agency, which saw “extensive” violations at Formosa Plastics' plants in Louisiana and Texas in 2009. The Taiwanese company paid a settlement worth 13 million US dollars in that case to the US Department of Justice.
The Yulin Country naphtha cracker was met with public opposition over its possible health consequences from the start of construction in 1992. In 2009, the local government, which had welcomed the investment in their area, agreed to invite researchers from the National Taiwan University to conduct a three-year study to evaluate the health risk in relation to the complex.
Their damning results have inspired residents to take up a possible lawsuit against the Formosa Plastics Group [zh]. Jung Sheng-Hsiung reported on the progress at public news portal PNN:
The study has also prompted other nearby areas like Chuanhua County to push for a similar investigation into their situation. Chuanhua County is located north of the plant, and when the summer south wind blows, residents fear that it might carry some of the same air pollutants with it.
Jung Sheng-Hsiung, reporting for PNN, visited the affected villages from Chuanhua County and presented a photo feature titled as “The South Wind”. Jung has granted Global Voices permission to republish and translate part of his feature report.
61-year-old Chin-Feng Chen's late husband, Shih-Hsien Hsu, who died two years ago, did not leave her anything except an old house, for which they have paid the mortgage for 20 years but still need to pay more. And the debt for his sickness is yet to clear. When Shih-Hsien Hsu was alive, they always did the farming together. Since they did not own any land, they could only farm for others to make an income. Their financial condition was never good. In 2006, Shih-Hsien Hsu, who never smoked tobacco nor drank alcohol or chewed betel nuts, was diagnosed with oral cancer. His health condition kept deteriorating despite help from doctors. He died in November 2011 at the age of 59 after the cancer spread to his lungs.
Chin-Feng Chen said that she does not have sufficient knowledge to explain why her husband died from oral cancer. However, she wonders how a person such as her husband, who was a farmer in the countryside without any bad habits such as smoking and drinking or chewing betel nuts, died from oral cancer.
74-year-old Lin-Shin Wei developed a six-centimeter-large tumor in her left lung three years ago, and was diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma. Considering her age and the size of the tumor, the doctor suggested that the cancer not be removed through surgical measures because her prognosis might not be very good. However, Lin-Shin Wei said she wanted to fight the cancer and proved her body strong enough to receive the surgery. She eventually convinced the doctor.
Now Lin-Shin Wei has a scar 15 centimeters long on her body. She was proud to show the scar to me during the interview. To her, this scar is not only evidence of her illness, but also an award for her will to live.