The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday held a round table meeting with academics and civic groups to discuss the possibility of adjusting soil contamination control guidelines in the hopes of striking a balance between industrial development and public health.
The agency recently said it hoped to relax restrictions on a range of heavy metals and chemicals discharged into soils by factories, including cadmium, arsenic, lead, copper and zinc.
Yang Kai-hsing (楊鎧行), head of the Comprehensive Planning division of the EPA’s Soil and Groundwater Pollution Remediation Fund Management Board, said the existing values governing arsenic and lead levels released into soil are stricter than those of other countries and are therefore out of date.
Citing WHO statistics, which recommend a daily intake of 10mg/kg and 45mg/kg respectively, Yang also suggested the possibility of lowering the control values on copper and zinc discharged by plants into neighboring rice paddies, saying that the crop can only absorb a certain amount of the two substances.
The human body is able to absorb a maximum of 2.57mg of copper and 10.26mg of zinc on a daily basis; therefore, the two substances do not affect rice crop safety or threaten public health, he said.
However, environmentalists have questioned the plan, accusing the EPA of attempting to manipulate its oversight mechanism to reduce plant maintenance costs.
Taiwan Water Resources Conservation Union director Jennifer Nien (黏麗玉) said that the soil contamination control guidelines sets the control values for heavy metal pollutions at between 3.3 and 40 times the background value of farmland, putting the nation in the middle rank in terms of restriction enforcement compared with other countries.
Citing one of the EPA’s proposals, which asks: “Is it necessary to identify the possible causes of drinkable underground water being exposed to heavy metals, since it is unlikely that heavy metal pollutants transfer and guidelines are already in place?” she said that what matters more than the pollutants’ immobility are their concentration levels and states, adding that the EPA’s proposal misses the point.
Changhua County Environmental Protection Union secretary-general Shih Yueh-ying (施月英) called on agency officials to establish control standards on the pollution such chemicals cause west coast fisheries, saying that seafood is an important part of Taiwanese cuisine.
Tsai Hung-te (蔡鴻德), executive secretary of the management board, said that while he agrees with some of the groups’ demands to tighten controls on pollutant levels in residential areas, parks and farmland, he hopes that the restrictions on plant-discharged heavy metals can be relaxed.
“If control standards can be established according to land use, we hope the restrictions imposed on factory-discharged cadmium and nickel can be relaxed, from 20 to 100 parts per million [ppm] and from 200 to 1,000ppm respectively,” he said.
“However, all control values proposed by the Environmental Protection Administration are negotiable and no decisions will be made before agreements are reached with citizens,” he said.