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Cablegate: Dioxin Threatens Taiwan's Food Supply

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 002997

SIPDIS

DEPT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON AND AID

DEPT FOR EAP/RSP/TC AND OES/PCI

USDOC FOR 6200/ITA/TD/ENVIROTECH EXPORTS

FROM AIT KAOHSIUNG BRANCH OFFICE

EPA FOR OIA - DAN THOMPSON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ECON TW ESTH
SUBJECT: Dioxin Threatens Taiwan's Food Supply

1. Summary. Two major incidents of dioxin contamination
have come to light in recent months. In one case,
researchers under contract with Taiwan's Environmental
Protection Administration (TEPA) determined that dioxin
levels in sludge from Tainan's Chufakang and Luermen Rivers
is more than fifty times TEPA's established standard for
ground pollution. Even higher levels have been detected in
the soil of fish-farming operations in the area. Testing of
local residents over the age of fifty for dioxin levels
revealed that sixty percent of those tested had dioxin
levels more than twice as high as TEPAS's accepted level.
Fishing has been banned in the two rivers and sales of fish
from fish farms in the area have been halted. In another
case, after finding high levels of dioxin in duck eggs from
Changhua, Agricultural authorities culled thousand of ducks
and ordered the destruction of more than one million eggs.
Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), TEPA and the
Council for Agriculture have agreed to provide US$42 million
as compensation for the economic losses to the residents who
have tested above the TEPA accepted levels for dioxin. End
Summary.

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--------------------------------------------- -----------
Former Government-owned Plant is Source of Contamination
--------------------------------------------- -----------


2. Taiwan Alkali's Anshun Plant operated by Taiwan's
Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) began producing
pentachlorophenol in 1964. The resulting industrial wastes,
including dioxin, were dumped into the local rivers. In
1981, MOEA officials determined that the site was
contaminated with dioxin and mapped out a series of measures
to clean up the sites. However, due to budget constraints,
the clean-up projects were never carried out. In May 1982,
MOEA ordered the plant to cease production and in 1983, the
facilities were sold to another MOEA-owned company, China
Petrochemical Development Corporation (CPDC). CPDC never
resumed production at the plant. CPDC was privatized in
1994.

-------------------------------------------
Taiwan's EPA Initiates Dioxin Study in 2005
-------------------------------------------

3. In January 2005, TEPA contracted with the Industrial
Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a quasi-governmental
research agency, to conduct research on the pollution of the
CPDC Anshun Plant site, the neighboring Chufakang and
Luermen Rivers, and various fish farms in the area. The
research focused on levels of pentachlorophenol, mercury and
dioxin in groundwater, soil, and sludge from the two rivers
and fish farms. Based on ITRI's preliminary report,
pentachlorophenol and mercury levels in groundwater were
acceptable, but dioxin levels were found to be elevated in a
twenty-acre area adjacent to the Luermen River.

4. Tests of dioxin levels in sludge from the Chufakang
River were 1670pg/g (all results using the ITEQ method), and
those in the soil of some neighboring fish farms reached
levels of 3700pg/g. Mercury content in sludge from
Chufakang River and Luermen River was within expected levels
and pentachlorophenol was not detected. TEPA's current
standard for dioxin content in soil is 1000pg/g. No
standards have been established for rivers. The report also
shows mercury content in the soil adjacent to the plant's
employee dormitory at 24.9 ppm, higher than TEPA's maximum
standard of 20 ppm.

5. ITRI and TEPA have also worked with local health
officials to test local residents for dioxin exposure.
Sixty individuals over the age of 50 were tested. The
results showed blood dioxin levels of 15pg/g (more than
double the normal dioxin level) in 60% of the individuals
tested. Since the primary means for human exposure is
through food, ITRI is currently conducting tests on fish
produced in the affected area. Results of this testing are
not yet available. TEPA will publish a completed research
report by November 2005 and plans to try to make CPDC take
responsibility for any clean -up. However, this may be
challenging because, according to TEPA officials, there are
no standards for dioxin levels of river sludge and no
regulations under which TEPA can compel companies to clean
up affected sites.

-------------
Changhua Case
-------------

6. In another incident in Changhua County in central
Taiwan, in February 2005, excessively high levels of dioxin
in duck eggs were found in a local market. As a result of
the testing, Taiwan's Council for Agriculture quietly
ordered the culling of 20,000 ducks at farms in Changhua
along with the destruction more than one million duck eggs
in March 2005. Despite the results and actions taken, this
case was not picked up by the media until June 2005. While
a search for pollution sources is on-going, TEPA has
determined that the Taiwan Steel Union Corporation, a steel
ash recycler, has been emitting dioxin at a level several
times higher than that permitted for waste incinerators.
Nonetheless, as recycling plants are not covered by the same
regulations as for waste incinerators, the company continues
to operate despite warnings from TEPA.

----------------------------
Dioxin is in the Food Supply
----------------------------

8. Results of fish testing in the Tainan area are not
complete, but based on the elevated blood levels in human
subjects, Taiwan authorities expect to find a link to humans
in the food chain. Health authorities have also begun human
testing in Changhua, but results have yet to be published.

9. While most of the fish produced by farms in Tainan is
sold only in the Tainan markets, Changhua County is a major
supplier of fruit, vegetables and poultry products for the
Taipei market. Despite the fact that Changhua is Taiwan's
leading agricultural region, Taiwan authorities have not
begun testing the broad range of food products produced
there for dioxin content. Even if such testing is
conducted, Taiwan lacks a body of regulations to deal
effectively with food contamination.

------------
Compensation
------------

10. In response to the public outcry that has followed the
press coverage of these cases, Taiwan's Ministry of Economic
Affairs (MOEA), TEPA and the Council for Agriculture have
agreed to provide US$42 million as compensation for the
economic losses to the residents who have tested above the
TEPA accepted levels for dioxin. The government has
provided 6,000 New Taiwan Dollars (NTD)(USD 187) each month
for five years to each affected household and for those who
are unable to work as a result of dioxin poisoning, the
government has promised to provide 16,000 NTD (USD 500) each
month for five years.

10. Comment. Taiwan is currently approaching the dioxin
problem on an ad hoc basis in response to pressure from
environmental groups. Absent adequate regulations and a
clear plan for monitoring the food and water supply,
identifying and responding to such incidents will remain
difficult. AIT will continue to monitor and report on this
issue as more information becomes available. End Comment.

Johnson

Keegan

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