||PCB Symposium 2003 in Malaysia
Years after the Yucheng Incident--Current Update on PCBs
Issues in Taiwan
Twenty-Four Years after the Yucheng Incident
--Current Update on PCBs Issues in Taiwan
Homemakers' Union & Foundation, Taipei, Taiwan
The area of Taiwan is about 36,000 km2, approximately
one ninth the size of Malaysia, however, Taiwan has a larger
population size (over 23 million) than Malaysia. Being one
of the most densely populated area on Earth plus decades
of emphasis on economic development, human activities has
generated tremendous environmental burden on this small
island-state and the sea around it.
Yucheng: the Rice Bran Oil Event
In the early 1960s, the newspaper began reporting about
introducing Japanese technology of making refined rice bran
oil. It was not until 1975 that the rice bran oil was promoted
by the governmental agency (Food Industry Research and Development
Institute) as the new healthy cooking oil. In October of
1979 , a mysterious disease that spread around Taichung
and Changhua area was finally confirmed to be linked to
PCBs-contaminated rice bran oil. According to official statistics,
2,061 people in central Taiwan were affected by this massive
Hui-Ming School and Home for the Blind Children was the
first institution to report the mysterious disease (chloracne)
that infested 167 blind children, teachers and staff.
The same type of oil processing machine has been identified
as the culprit for both the Yusho(Japan, 1968 ) and Yucheng
episodes as well. No compensations were paid to the victims,
the oil making and retailing companies had transferred their
properties before the court made its final verdict. Decades
of follow-up studies have cited the adverse health effects
of the victims and children born from the victims. The government
had promised the full medical care for the victims. Through
these years, the Yucheng victims found themselves stigmatized
and neglected by the health care institutions when they
seek frequent medical care because of their impaired immune
and endocrine functions.
Some victims of Yusho in Kyushu areas had visited the Yucheng
victims more than once in the 1980s. Civil movements and
journalism were spurred by the Yucheng incident and inspired
the founding of the first consumers' protection NGO in Taiwan,
the Consumers' Foundation in 1980.
Of the 39 fetuses in utero during the active exposure,
9 died at or around birth.
Children born to mothers exposed to PCBs became a cohort
group for the study of the PCBs tetratogenic effects. These
children, so called "Cola-babies" because of
their dark pigmented skin, were born with delayed development,
scoring low in IQ test, pigmentation of head, face and genitals,
shorter penis .
Children born up to 6 years after their mothers' exposure
were as affected as children born within a year or two when
examined at 6 and 7 years of age. CThe effect persisted
in the children up to the age of 7 years, and children born
long after the exposure were still affected. Other scientists
argued that the extreme toxic/ tetratogenic effects should
be attributed largely to the heat-degradation products of
PCBs, namely dibenzofurans and quaterphenyl .
Black color of nose (PCB poisoning)
Acbeform eruptions (PCB poisoning)
The government has subsequently taken critical steps in
setting regulations to curb the problem. All PCBs use has
been exclusively imported. PCBs are listed as controlled
chemicals for import by the Bureau of Industrial Development
since 1972. The import of PCBs was halted in 1980 due to
the Yucheng incident, and its application in food processing
was prohibited as well.
In 1980, the import of PCBs was halted, and its use in
food production was prohibited. The Environmental Protection
Administration of Taiwan (Taiwan EPA) was officially established
in 1987. The Toxic Chemical Substances Control Act
was announced and went into effect in 1986. On June 22,
1988 the Taiwan EPA listed PCBs as controlled substance
under the Toxic Chemical Substances Control Act. PCBs were
listed as Class I and II controlled toxic chemical substance,
where PCBs comes first in the list. Production, import,
retail and use were prohibited accordingly.
PCBs are found mostly in capacitors and transformers produced
before May of 1980. Because such products have been in use
for over twenty years they present a constant threat of
leaks and environmental contamination. To improve control
of PCBs, on May 26, 1995, the EPA decreed that with the
exception of experiments, research and education, all use
of PCBs would be banned as of December 31, 2000. The EPA
further stipulated that all PCB containing capacitors and
transformers not in use should be immediately removed, reported
as a hazardous waste, and properly disposed of according
to the Waste Disposal Act. However, the EPA emphasized
that capacitors produced from June 1980 to December 1982
cannot be tested because they are in use may be used until
the end of their life expectancy.
Industrial Pollution of PCBs and
Toxic Chemcial Substance management in Taiwan began with
the promulgation of the Toxic Chemical Substances Control
Act. Taiwan EPA has already listed 252 types of toxic chemicals
to guard against the dangers posed by these substances.
According to the estimation of the Taiwan EPA, Taiwan produced
1.93 million tons of hazardous waste in 2000, and the treatment
capacity is about 0.93 million tons annually, those disappeared
wastes end up illegally dumped around the island. EPA's
statistics shows at least 175 illegal dumpsing sites of
industrial waste have been identified .
Some of the PCB-related hazardous waste sites in Taiwan
have been identified and remediation plans have been undergoing
in areas such as Erhjen River and Ta Fa Industrial Park.
The Erhjen River is located in the southwest of Taiwan.
High levels of PCBs, PCDD and furans have been found in
the sediments and fish sample since early 1980s. At the
hay day of the open-air cable burning, the Wanli area by
the Erhjen river, the abortion, stillbirth and birth abnormality
rate was very high, especially the anencephaly (baby born
without brain). When fish samples were tested with high
levels of furans and dioxins, the government banned the
import of scrap metals and subsquently relocated the metal
smelting industries to Ta Fa Industrial Park in the nearby
Kaohsiung city. This river is considered one of the most
polluted river in Taiwan due to its vicinity had been the
ground for scrap metal processing, open-air cable burning
between the 70s-90s . Most of the ship dismantling and
scrap metal processing industry has been moved to China
and other Asian countries.
The Erhjen River has long been polluted by scrap metal
smelters, and that most smelters currently use illegal equipment
or operate in unlicensed buildings. The pollution from these
operations has spread to Kaohsiung County, Tainan City and
Tainan County. Over the past 20 years governments from the
three have often organized joint inspection teams, but have
consistently failed as smelters went from open air to underground
In 2000, Taiwan EPA decided that cleanup of the Kaoping,
Erhjen and Chiangchun rivers would be given top priory,
and set aside NT$230 million in the 2001 budget for this
work. On September 2001, the EPA announced formation of
the a taskforce charged with cleaning up pollution from
illegal smelting operations in the Erhjen River, putting
cleanup of the Erhjen among the most pressing of the EPA's
current jobs. There are about 60 smelting operations, most
of them illegally operated should be removed from the banks
of the river.
Smelters Around the Erhjen River
Monitoring of PCBs Residues
Studies on the bioaccumulation of PCBs in river fish revealed
that southern Taiwan is more polluted than the north, which
is correlated with the industrial use mentioned, while the
concentration of PCBs in fish has decreased  . Studies
of PCBs and dioxins from human placenta and breast milk
had been analyzed over the recent years. These studies are
beginning steps for establishing background data of PCBs
concentration in Taiwanese population . As to the study
of marine mammals, PCBs concentrations and TEQs in cetaceans
from Taiwan coastal waters were similar to the results from
Philippines, British Columbia and Florida coast .
Fish unsafe for consumption
In December 5, 2000, the findings of a TEPA study became
the headline news that fish from three major rivers in southern
Taiwan contained high concentration of PCBs. The public
was advised not to consume the viscera of fish caught in
Tonkang and Kaoping Rivers. The result confirmed what environmental
groups have long suspected, for numerous hog farms, industries
and dumpsites for metal smelting plants had been discharging
waste through pipelines into the river .
Again in December 23, 2000, seafood unsafe for consumption
became the headline news. Analysis of 30 species of sea
fish purchased from markets in Hsinchu area revealed that
14 species were tested positive of organo-chloride pesticides
long banned in Taiwan. Thirteen percent of the fish sample
contained levels of chemical residues exceeding the safety
threshold. Another water quality monitoring project showed
that 45.8% of the rivers were tested positive for nonylphenols,
and rivers in the northern Taiwan were the most polluted.
New Load of Threats
1986, the Administration Yuan adopted the policy for
waste, that is "Incineration First, Landfill
Second". According to Taiwan EPA, there will
be 36 large-scale waste for energy incineration facilities
in Taiwan by 2010. "One refuse incinerator for
every city and county" declared the Taiwan EPA.
Among the 21 incinerators Taiwan EPA provide funding
for construction, eighteen have already been constructed
and begun operating. Construction of the other three
is still underway. BOO/BOT investment methods have
been adopted for the construction and operation of
another eleven incinerators by private enterprises.
Currently, there are 19 large-scale incineration facilities
in operations islandwide. These the operations of
new municipal waste incinerators pose new threats
to this land and its inhabitants. We fears that given
a few years, Taiwan will succeed Japan to become the
most dioxin-laden country in the world.
It took a massive poisoning episode to teach a nation about
an awkward chemical named Polychlorinated Biphenyls. Evidence
shows that banning the use of PCBs has gradually lowered
the residual levels of PCBs in Taiwan, however, the public
concerns for PCBs is regenerated for their endocrine disrupting
effects. We now face tough choices on selecting every bite
we take, especially fish and shellfish. We sincerely hope
that the Yucheng episode or events like so will not take
place in your countries. To prevent than to heal, it takes
precautions on every side.
- Chen YC, Guo YL, Hsu CC, Rogan WJ. (1992) Cognitive
development of Yucheng ("oil disease") children
prenatally exposed to heat-degraded PCBs.
- Guo YL (2000) Health effects associated with perinatal
exposure to environmental hormones:the polyhalogenated
aromatic hydrocarbons. In the First Environmental Hormones
Conference, Taipei, Taiwan.
- Hsing HJ, Wang FK, Chang CD. Hazardous waste importation,
exportation, and control strategies of Taiwan. China Technical
- Ling YC, Soong DK, Lee MK. (1995) PCDD/DFS and coplanar
PCBs in the sediments and fish samples from the Erhjen
river in Taiwan. Chemosphere 31: 2863-2872.
- Huang JH. (1997) Industrial waste treatment in Taiwan.
Industrial Development Bureau, Ministry of Economic Affairs,
- Chao HR, Wang SL, Yu ST, Yu HY, Lin LY. (2002) 2,3,7,8-substitued
PCDD/F levels and its related factors in Taiwanese primipara
human milk. In The 2nd Environmental Hormones Conference
(Taipai, Taiwan): 58-63.