Letter to Taiwan EPA
24 August, 1999
Mr. Tsai, Hsung-Hsiung
Environmental Protection Agency of Taiwan
41 Chung Hwa Road,
Dear Mr. Tsai, Hsung-Hsiung:
We the undersigned groups have been following the controversy surrounding the mercury contaminated toxic waste generated by the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG). We wish to express to you our concerns over your agency's policy with respect to this and other hazardous wastes and to assist you in your effort to develop the most appropriate policy with respect to such wastes.
First, it must be understood that FPG, being a very wealthy company is fully capable of implementing the very best waste prevention and toxic mitigation measures in the world. The onus is particularly on them to do this as they are engaged in production of products such as their lead product -- polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is known to produce in its life cycle, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins and furans which are extremely toxic and long-lasting and have been targeted for global phase-out.
Second FPG (Formosa Plastics) has demonstrated gross irresponsibility by exporting in an illegal manner, 3,000 tonnes of mercury contaminated waste to Cambodia. Two individuals who came in acute contact with the waste died and a riot and panic ensued that killed at least 5 more people. Great expense was incurred by Cambodia due to this incident and FPG has never paid compensation for these losses.
Third, as Taiwan is one of the world's most heavily industrialized countries it must therefore quickly become among the world's leaders in implementing the cleanest production methods and safest detoxification or storage methods for existent intractable toxic wastes. This must include phasing out industries which produce intractable persistent toxic wastes such as heavy metals or POPs.
Fourth, despite its current uncertain status in the world with respect to the prevailing "one China" policy which in effect prevents Taiwan from entering into much of the body of international law, Taiwan should act as if it were party to such prevailing international law.
In view of the above, we expect that Taiwan will respect the global community consensus by adhering to the obligations of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal as if it were an active Party to that Convention.
The primary obligations of that Convention include requirements to ensure that hazardous wastes are reduced to a minimum at their point of origin (Article 4, 2, (a)), that hazardous wastes are managed in the country of origin to the extent possible (Article 4, 2 (b)), and that the transboundary movements of hazardous waste is reduced to a minimum (Article 4. 2 (d)).
In other words the global community in the Basel Convention has condemned hazardous waste trafficking in favor of minimization and waste management at source. The answer to the toxics crisis is not found via export but rather through prevention and containment of existent wastes at the point of their generation.
Further, the Basel Convention requires the "Duty to Re-Import" on the exporting state (Article 8) for wastes which were exported or imported illegally or in ways contrary to the terms of the contract.
This duty to re-import is required within 90 days of the time the importing state (in this case Cambodia) has notified the exporting state (Taiwan) of the problem unless alternative arrangements can be made within that time.
Clearly, the 90 days has long passed since Cambodia indicated its desire to have the waste removed from Taiwan. Clearly, alternative arrangements for disposal have not been able to take place as the waste is still sitting in Kaohsiung Harbor and to our understanding has yet to clear customs and officially be re-imported into Taiwan. Thus, had Taiwan been a Party to the Basel Convention, they would now be in violation of that Convention.
We can well understand your reluctance to have the waste disposed of in the territory of Taiwan, particularly as your agency has acknowledged that FPG and Taiwan currently lacks the capacity to manage its own hazardous wastes.
However we submit that neither the communities of Taiwan, nor those of the rest of the world, be they in California, Idaho, Nevada, Texas or elsewhere should be burdened by FPG's lack of capacity to stabilize, or store their own effluent.
Rather, the principles embodied in the Basel Convention as well as the universally accepted "polluter pays" principle must be applied in this case with respect to FPG.
Further, there is a real need to address the other historical toxic waste of this type that has been dumped over the years throughout the country of Taiwan. A solution must be found for this waste as well.
In light of the above we therefore ask that:
1) Taiwan immediately lift its ban on the re-import of this hazardous waste in accordance with Article 8 of the Basel Convention.
2) FPG be required to re-import their own waste and manage it ONLY within the confines of their own corporate property.
3) FPG must be required to safely containerize, and then perpetually store, this waste in above-ground, monitored, retrievable storage on their corporate property in a manner that will not endanger workers, or the peoples and environment inside or outside their property.
4) Taiwan work with the United States EPA in a joint effort to develop and implement mercury stabilization technologies that will effectively isolate mercury bearing waste from the environment, and provide a more permanent solution for this problem.
We the undersigned groups stand ready to assist you in the above proper policy objectives in any way we can. Those of us based in Taiwan stand ready to work with you in developing rational, preventative waste management policies and programs, including proper remediation and management of the historically dumped waste of this type throughout Taiwan.
Those of us in the United States have already approached prominent Senators and regulators to begin moving the cooperative effort forward. We invite you to work with us in the above constructive approach which recognizes that problems are best dealt with at source, rather than simply exported elsewhere.
Jim Puckett on behalf of the following organizations:
Basel Action Network
Taiwan Environmental Action Network
Blue Tung Kang River
Basel Action Network
California Citizens Against Toxics
Green Party Taiwan
Washington Toxics Coalition
cc. Carol Browner, Administrator USEPA, Fax: 1.202.260.0279; Sheryl Nelson, Leader, USEPA intra-regional Task Force on FPG waste. Fax: 1.415.538.5053