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Science Park incinerator a `health hazard’

Residents near the Hsinchu Science Park say the waste incinerator is a health risk, but park officials say emissions are within acceptable levels

By Chiu Yu-tzu
Monday, Feb 21, 2005,Page 2

Hsinchu Science Park officials announced last week that the NT$185.9 billion in sales last year of products from the park represented a growth of 27 percent year-on-year. However, the operation of a newly-completed sludge treatment facility at the park’s water treatment plant is the object of protest by nearby residents and environmentalists.

Driving from Taipei down to Hsinchu City via Chung Shan National Highway, drivers can easily see two eye-catching signs roughly 10m high, posted on walls of Lungshan Primary School. Parents opposed to the facility have made both Chinese and English, saying the sludge incinerator is jeopardizing their children’s health.

The sludge incinerator, designed to treat up to 95 tonnes of industrial sludge daily, is in close proximity to residences and schools. Since its was lunched last August, park administrators have been punished by Hsinchu City Government for exceeding acceptable levels of arsenic and dioxin emissions.

“We don’t care what kind of advanced technology is used. The location of the incinerator was a huge mistake,” Chung Shu-chi (鍾淑姬), an environmentalist at the Hsinchu Foundation, told the Taipei Times.
Chung said that since last August, when the operation of the sludge incinerator was launched, the health of daily visitors, employees, students at nearby schools and residents of eastern Hsinchu — roughly 150,000 people — had been aversely affected.

Chung said that Lungshan Primary School, a mere 580m from the incinerator, is just one of affected schools. Within a 2km radius of the incinerator, there are eight schools of varying levels, including two major universities. National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) is only about 800m away from the facility.
Environmentalists, local residents and NCTU professors have organized demonstrations against the park several times. At meetings with the park’s administration, they accused the park of using waste solvents collected from firms in the park as auxiliary fuel for the incinerator.

“Solvents collected from high-tech companies in the park contain certain acid and alkaline chemicals,” said Tsai Chuen-Jinn (蔡春進), an environmental engineering professor at NCTU. “Burning waste solvents containing organic chlorine is involved in the formation of poisonous dioxins,” he added.
According to the US National Institute of Health, studies have shown that dioxin exposure at high levels leads to an increased risk of cancer.

Other studies have shown that dioxin exposure can lead to reproductive and developmental problems. Dioxin’s potential to cause birth defects has not been established in humans, but studies in mice show that it can produce congenital defects.

The industrial park’s director-general, James Lee (李界木), said that he had not given up the idea of using waste chemical solvents as fuel for the incinerator because he considered it recycling.
“Professional analysis suggests that waste solvents have better performance then diesel oil as a fuel in combustion,” Lee said.
According to Lee, the park generates 60 tonnes of waste solvents daily. The incinerator might accommodate one third of the daily amount. Lee said that a chemical analysis would be carried out in order to refine the solvents used as fuel.

The park’s administration also stressed that treating non-hazardous industrial waste inside the park as much as possible amounts to environmental protection.

“The incinerator dries sludge, reducing it to 20 percent of its original volume. The incinerator also can consume quantities of waste solvents,” Lee said.

In July 2000, illegal waste handlers dumped industrial solvents, including the toxic xylene, into the Chishan River (旗山溪), one of the main sources of water for the Kaohsiung metropolitan area, leaving millions of residents without tap water for days. In 2001, the Environmental Protection Administration suggested that science parks should come up with strategies for handling industrial waste. Hsinchu Science Park began construction of the sludge incinerator in December 2001. Currently, most companies send their waste solvents to incinerators in eastern Taiwan.

The park’s administration said that the operation had been improved and sound supervision would ensure the safety.

Chan Jen-chieh (詹仁杰) of Cotech Engineering Corp, the firm hired by the park to operate the incinerator, said that advanced technologies had been adopted to optimize the combustion of industrial sludge.

“We burn it at temperatures higher than 850?C in order to not generate dioxins,” he said.

Environmentalists, however, suspect that the incinerator was mainly built to accommodate waste chemical solvents.

Local environmentalists have initiated a petition demanding the park shut down the incinerator.