In the second of a two-part series focused on the 1998 Sihanoukville toxic
Phelim Kyne investigates how similar toxic waste sites
in Taiwan have been discovered in the year since the Sihanoukville
A YEAR AFTER its abortive dumping in Sihanoukville last
December, the 2,900 metric tons of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) toxic
waste sits in limbo on the docks of the southern Taiwanese city of
Taiwan-bound: this deadly cargo now sits in port in Kaoshiung
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
On March 30, 1999,
Cambodian government officials and FPG representatives toasted the removal of
the waste to music provided by a rock band specially hired for the
While Minister of Interior Sar Kheng expressed the government's
regret that "Officials colluded to be corrupt ... when they took this waste in
here," a defiant statement from FPG President C.T. Lee blasted "common people
and the media" for the tragic events that swept Sihanoukville following the
Lee had reason to feel confident that day.
already received preliminary clearance to dump the waste in a California
landfill and an embarrassing chapter in the company's history appeared to be
drawing to a close.
The very next day, however, Safety Kleen, the company
contracted by FPG to clean up the Sihanoukville site backed off on dumping the
waste in the US due to results of independent testing of the waste's contents
that indicated, "This material is more complex than originally believed and
potentially non-conforming" to US EPA standards.
attempts to dump the waste in Idaho and France were also frustrated by a
combination of public protests and continuing concerns over the precise nature
of the toxic compounds it contains.
While FPG is now negotiating to have
the waste dumped in Germany, the publicity created by its bungled disposal
attempts have sparked a series of revelations of similar toxic dumpsites in
FPG's home base of Taiwan.
So far an additional 10,000 tons of the same
type of mercury-laced toxic rubble dumped in Sihanoukville last year has been
discovered in two locations in southern Taiwan, one located within the watershed
of a river that supplies drinking water to the city of Kaoshiung.
that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The Taiwan Environmental Quality
Protection Association (EQPA), an environmental NGO, has gained access to FPG
documents that indicate more than 130,000 tons of mercury-tainted waste were
produced by the company between 1970 and 1989.
The amount of this waste
discovered to date is only 12,900 tons (including that found in Sihanoukville),
raising the specter of about 118,000 tons of toxic waste buried in secret
dumpsites and slowly leaching mercury into groundwater in Taiwan and
That prospect has gained even greater credibility following
revelations in the Nov 26, 1999 edition of Taiwan's United Daily News that water
testing in four communities surrounding FPG's Jenwu plant have reported
dangerously high levels of heavy metals, including mercury.
EQPA spokesperson Heidi Lin, the toxicity of the two known FPG waste sites in
Taiwan have heightened fears about the threat posed by yet-undiscovered sites.
"[One] site has been listed as one of the five most dangerous [toxic
waste] sites in Taiwan," Lin told the Post. "We have also heard rumors that FPG
still has a large volume of mercury-contaminated waste in [its plant at] Jenwu,
but we have no proof."
Lin cites FPG's "excellent relationship with
[Taiwan's ruling] KMT and senior government officials" for the company's lack of
willingness to come clean on its waste.
Joyce Fu, a spokesperson for
Taiwan's Green Formosa Front (GFF) told the Post that FPG has consistently
refused to disclose either the whereabouts of the missing 118,000 tons of waste
or detailed analyses of its composition.
Fu added that the Taiwan
government's EPA is making little effort to locate the waste or to notify
communities to be on the alert.
Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network,
an organization that monitors the global movement of hazardous waste, told the
Post by e-mail that FPG "should be thought of as corporate criminals who
continue to act without regard for the environment or human health."