Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sihanoukville's Toxic Legacy - Part II

Sihanoukville's Toxic Legacy - Part II

Sihanoukville's Toxic Legacy - Part II

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In the second of a two-part series focused on the 1998 Sihanoukville toxic

waste dumping,
Phelim Kyne investigates how similar toxic waste sites

in Taiwan have been discovered in the year since the Sihanoukville

scandal.

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

Kaoshiung.

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

occasion.

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

dumping.

Lee had reason to feel confident that day.

FPG had

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.

FPG's subsequent

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.

And

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

beyond.

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.

According to

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."

 

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