Systemically and Viciously
Greetings to Ethecon Foundation members, awardees, and honored guests. My name is Diane Wilson and in 2006 I was awarded Ethecon’s first Blue Planet Award. I was extremely honored and pleased at that time to have received the Blue Planet Award that highlighted my environmental work in Texas on behalf of the bays and estuaries along the Gulf of Mexico and the fishing communities who live there and also my work as an antiwar activist.
Today, I am as delighted and probably more so because the Wang family, Lee Chih-tsuen, and the responsible management of the international polluter, Formosa Plastics Corporation, has been awarded Ethecon Foundations ’baddest award’: the Black Planet Award for destructive environmental and economic practices causing wreckage, havoc, and death upon our home, the blue planet Earth.
I am a fourth generation fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf Coast who has been on a boat since I was eight years old, inheriting my love of the sea from my father and grandfather, who was a Native American Indian. In 1995 I attempted to sink my own fortytwo foot shrimp boat upon the illegal discharge of Formosa plastics in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The reason was simple enough. The PVC giant, Formosa Plastics, was systemically and viciously destroying the bays where my family had been fishing for generations.
PVC is a controversial industrial product, for which production and disposal have been cited by the US EPA, the German EPA, and various international agencies for damage to human health and the environment. The manufacture of PVC utilizes highly toxic materials, including ethylene dichloride (EDC), vinyl chloride (VCM), chloroform, tetrachlorethane, carbon tetrachloride, and trichlorethane. Ethylene dichloride is carcinogenic, mutagenic, embryo toxic, and teratogenic. It damages the liver, kidneys and other organs, and can cause internal hemorrhaging and blood clots. Ethylene dichloride is also high flammable: the vapor can ex-plode, generating hydrogen chloride and phosgene. A Louisiana official noted that it ‘ will melt your plastic hard hat.
Yet in spite of all the toxicity and with total disregard for US federal environmental law, Formosa Plastics, a Taiwan based family owned dynasty that was built by a man, YC Wang, who once bragged that he didn’t know what the P in PVC stood for, was discharging millions of gallons highly toxic wastewater into a fragile bay without a wastewater permit.
That illegal discharge into a Texas bay in 1995 is infinitesimal compared to the harm that the Wang’s PVC family dynasty and its corporate management, whose motivation is clearly profit and more profit and power, has dispensed upon the international community. From their own home based island of Taiwan where in 1990 over 20,000 people demonstrated against Formosa’s proposed $8 billion chemical complex to the more recent linking of169 illegal dumpsites with Formosa Plastics the likely source of much of the 8,000 tons of mercury, the corporate management and the Wang Family dynasty has authored global catastrophe. In Cambodia outright criminal bribes paid for the admittance of illegal wastes; in Delaware USA violations were so egregious that all of the facility’ permits were revoked and the plant was shut down for six weeks. Very recently, an explosion that could have been prevented killed six workers. In Louisiana, USA, Formosa’s contamination of groundwater with EDC has threatened the city of Baton Rouge’s water supply. In Texas, Formosa’s waste water dis-charge has been so excessive and with so many violations that, according to the Texas Water Commission, Formosa had “totally changed the ecosystem.
Recently, the US EPA hit Formosa Plastics with a $13 million penalty. Their investigation at the Texas facility showed extensive Clear Air Act leak detection and repair violations, including failure to properly monitor leaking components (500 in one unit), failure to include chemical manufacturing equipment in its leak detection and repair program, and failure to timely repair leaking equipment. The inspectors also found “extensive” leak detection and repair violations, as well as other hazardous waste violations at the site and wastewater discharge violations.
This is not news to me. I have been talking with the workers inside the Formosa facility for twenty years and they’ve talked about unreported toxic releases, workers falling and dying from unsafe towers and ladders, rustfilled breathing air valves or no breathing air at all, breached toxic basins that ran across the fields, killing everything in its path, and uncontained vinyl chloride leaks so plentiful that the alarms were shut off in the control room so the workers could get some peace. These workers sent complaints to Formosa’s management, but the complaints weren’t welcomed. Complaints would get you fired.
In January 2009, the science journal Ecotoxicity, published a report by scientists at Texas A&M. The report revealed changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage in cattle as far as six miles downwind of Formosa. The changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage can increase the animal’s risk of cancer and reproduce damage. Wesley Bissett, lead study author and veterinarian at Texas A&M College of Veterinarian Medicine, said the cattle with the DNA damage were “orientated around the Formosa facility, with the highest damage occurring with those nearby and those downwind.” Bissett reported damage to cattle both within close proximity of the Formosa facility and in areas where the prevailing winds would blow the toxic gases.
In October, 2009, the EPA held a meeting in our community and discussed Formosa’s extensive ethylene dichloride contamination that had been caused in part by their chemical process exceedances, overflows, spills, and general sloppy housekeeping that forced closure of a nearby state rest area, buy-out of nearby property, burying of “questionable area’ under five foot of soil, and contamination of the groundwater and nearby Cox Creek in the millions part per billion. The safety of the local water wells is unsure at this time.
I believe that Formosa’s sloppy environmental record can only mean that their occupational record is equally suspect. In fact, serious public health concerns have persisted for the nearly thirty years regarding the toxic air and water pollution being released from the Formosa Plastics, Point Comfort, Texas complex. I worry about the workers who are on the front lines. Many of them have documented thrombocytosis, neurological damage, cognitive impairment, severe peripheral neuropathy can only be treated with a surgically implanted pump that delivers morphine, the painkiller, to the spinal nerves 24/7. One worker worries because a friend in his PVC unit died from brain cancer. Another female worker worked around the leaking flanges and valves and died of angiosarcomaliver cancer. A number of workers have developed knots on their heads and have been told by their friends to get a biopsy, but they don’t because they are afraid they will find brain cancer.
The concern about brain cancer among the workers has been so severe that Formosa got wind of it and sent out a memo to all the vinyl employees that they were bringing in a doctor who would talk about brain cancer. Basically, the doctor told the concerned workers that there was no link to vinyl chloride exposure and brain cancer. Who knows what caused it. Probably the barbeque they ate.
One of Formosa’s workers did the daily logging of vinyl chloride leaks in the PVC unit. The federal safety limit for vinyl chloride for workers is one part per million for eight hours. The vinyl leaks in the PVC unit ranged from l.2 to 7 to 13 to 35 to 177 to 987 to 2,000 parts per million and this for every hour of every day of every year. And the worker had been there for 25 years.
What is singularly outrageous about the corporate management of Formosa Plastics, is that in spite of these chronic and dangerous releases of vinyl chloride, the vice president of Formosa Plastics, Point Comfort, Texas said that there has not been any environmental or health impacts. Yes, this lie, in spite of the fact that workers have waded in EDC for days with nothing but rubber gloves and boots to protect them. That process lines have been tied into drinking water lines and workers drank toxic and septic water for days. Or finally, that one worker’s last act at Formosa was after a corporate official told him to falsify a 6-8 ton vinyl chloride release so that the company could later report less than 3 pounds to the US EPA.
The people who run and direct Formosa Plastics environmental policies just do not seem to get the message. Formosa Plastics environmental track record is the bottom of the barrel and the company seems to go out of its way to keep breaking the law. This is intolerable. Formosa Plastics management, corporate officers, and Wang founders needs to pay the price. This insanity and crime against our global community must stop. That is why I am so deeply pleased to be giving this presentation at Ethecon Foundation’s annual Blue and Black Planet Award ceremony. The Foundation has had the fortitude and dogged persistence to track down the individuals and corporate officers that are responsible for the irreprehensible behavior of Formosa Plastics Corporation upon our global home. Most importantly, they have shown the courage this evening to show the real faces of Formosa Plastics Corporation’s egregious and destructive behavior, the Wang Family dynasty, Lee Chih-tsuen, and the corporate management, upon the world stage. Bravo bravo.