Chemical company employees face life sentences for environmental disaster
The chairman of a Taiwanese chemical company is among those charged with attempted murder for dumping 14,000 tonnes of chemical waste into mountain streams and coastal areas.
Several senior staff of the Eternal Chemical Company, including Chairman Yang Wen-hsiung, were among 22 people indicted on 15 August on charges as serious as attempted murder for a toxic pollution case which has shocked Taiwan, the Taipei Times reported.
Eternal Chemical, which makes resins, plastic and electronic materials, contracted waste handlers Shengli to dispose of its toxic waste, but the company dumped part of it into six mountain streams and three beaches between August 1997 and July this year to save costs. The scandal came to light in July when transport subcontractors were caught by police dumping more than 100 tonnes of toxic solvent into a tributary of the important Kaoping River.
This final incident let to extensive pollution of the water supply of Taiwan’s second city, Kaohsiung, where around 600,000 households were left without tap-water for five days. Prosecutors then traced the waste back to a factory owned by Eternal Chemical Company, which had revenues of 12 billion Taiwan dollars (US$387 million) in 1999.
Further investigation by authorities led to the indictment for dumping roughly 13,900 tonnes of waste containing chemicals such as phenol, dimethylbenzene, benzene, ethylbenzene and styrene, at random sites across the country.
It was revealed that since 1997 Eternal Chemical has contracted its waste disposal to Shengli, a licensed handler, but never declared the details of its disposal process to authorities, and then permitted Shengli to subcontract the deal to a company without a license to handle industrial waste, who are alleged to have used tanker trucks to dump the chemicals untreated.
“The accused, with their knowledge and experience, were aware of the high risk that the toxic solvent could cause cancer and death, but still continued to commit the offence without regard for the health of the general public,” the prosecutor general in the indictment, Shih Mao-lin, reportedly said, explaining why 12 people should be charged with attempted murder.
As well as requesting life sentences for the heads of the Eternal Chemical Company and Shengli and three others, who are all in court custody, the prosecutors issued both companies with corporate indictments, recommending that Eternal be fined 260 million Taiwan dollars (US$8.4 million) and Shengli 160 million Taiwan dollars (US$5.2 million). Courts have frozen the assets of Shengli as well as the personal assets of company’s executives and will also seek to freeze Eternal Chemical’s assets.
Environmental officials have reportedly given a substantial amount of money to three cities and counties to detoxify their drinking water.
“The accused pursued huge profits at the price of profound and extensive environmental damage. Such criminal behaviour is evil,” Mao-lin said.
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