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Repeat environmental regulations offender faces steep consequences after wastewater scandal

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Tests of drainage water and ecology near ASE wastewater pipes revealed traces of heavy metals and carcinogens.  Photo courtesy of The China Post.

A Taiwanese manufacturer of high-tech semiconductors has been ordered to suspend some of its operations and pay the maximum allowable fine after tests revealed hazardous levels of water pollution near its Kaohsiung factory. The company drained contaminated water from its K7 plant into Houjin Creek, a river that irrigates local farms.  The wastewater contains alarming amounts of untreated heavy metal toxins and cancer-causing agents.

Investigations into ASE’s environmental practices intensified after the success of Chi Po-lin’s award-winning documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above.

Kaohsiung’s Environmental Protection Bureau Director-General Chen Jin-de says that ASE submitted fake wastewater samples and statistics, and the K7 facility may be shut down.  More than 15,000 plant workers could be affected in the event of a shutdown.

The company’s Chief Operations Officer Wu Tien-yu apologized for “inconveniencing” officials with the false information, according to a report from The China Post.  Wu also apologized to ASE employees in a letter that said the company’s environmental management systems have improved since October.

EPA Minister Stephen Shen says that ASE should have ceased operations long before the scandal broke, citing 23 pollution violations on record over the past two years.

Local farmers stopped harvesting their crops after the news broke, and testing on the soil will determine the suitability of their plants for human consumption. Some of the these crops are sold nation-wide. According to a leader of Kaohsiung’s Farm Irrigation Association, farmers had complained about foul-smelling water in Houjin Creek before investigations got underway.

Several ASE executives and managers have been released from police custody on bail. Prosecutors say that evidence shows ASE intended to handle their wastewater irresponsibly, perhaps under the leadership of Executive Vice President Lin Hsien-tang.

The company, Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc., also operates factories in Taoyuan.  In light of the news from ASE’s K7 facility, other branches are currently undergoing inspection.  So far, environmental protection agents have discovered unregistered wastewater storage tanks, secret drainpipes, malfunctioning equipment, and more signs of untreated factory effluent.

ASE stock prices have plummeted since the scandal, and some reports say that foreign ASE clients like Qualcomm are considering purchasing from other manufacturers.  The Ministry of Economic Affairs also released a press release stating that ASE’s right to file for investment and government subsidies will be curtailed if evidence proves they severely violated environmental regulations.  Some ASE revenues accrued while the company defied regulations may also be categorized as “illegal” and confiscated by authorities.  Furthermore, ASE proprietors and/or supervisors may be subject to imprisonment for up to seven years following a trial.

The company must file an explanation for its behavior by December 19.  ASE says it plans to comply with all government requests, and further claims that some insufficient wastewater treatment issues have already been remediated.  In addition, ASE Chairman Jason Chang said December 16 that he plans to donate NT$100 million toward environmental protection every year for the next 30 years. He claims no knowledge of the illegal wastewater situation prior to the investigations.

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ASE Chairman Jason Chang stated that his company would never intentionally release untreated wastewater, and ASE has in fact maintained its long-standing commitment to environmental protection.  Photo courtesy of the Focus Taiwan News Channel.  

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