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 not only my environmental work in Texas on behalf of the bays and estuaries along the Gulf of Mexico and the fishing communities who live there, but also my work as an antiwar activist.
Today, I am just as delighted knowing that the Ethecon Foundation is awarding the Wang family, Lee Chih-tsuen, and the responsible management of Formosa Plastics Corporation the Black Planet Award for their destructive environmental and economic practices that has wrought such havoc upon our home, the blue planet Earth.
I am a fourth generation fisherwoman who has been on a boat since I was eight years old and I inherited my love of the sea from my father and grandfather. Therefore, many people think it strange that in 2005 I tried to sink my own forty-two foot fishing boat. The reason was simple enough. The bays where my family had been fishing for generations were being systemically and viciously destroyed by the PVC giant, Formosa Plastics. With obvious disregard and violation of federal environmental law, Formosa Plastics, a Taiwan based family owned dynasty that was built by YC Wang, was discharging millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into a fragile bay without a wastewater permit. And neither the EPA nor the state environmental agency cared. The previous years, Formosa’s waste water discharge into another body of water had been so excessive and with so many violations that, according to the Texas Water Commission, Formosa had “totally changed the ecosystem.” Now, I feared Formosa officials were prepared to destroy yet another bay for profit and greed. That was the reason for my drastic action to sink my shrimp boat because I clearly saw that the loss of my boat didn’t matter against the loss of a bay system and a fishing community’s way of life. My intent was to raise a cry about the destructive behavior of the Formosa Plastics Corporation officials.
Recently, the US EPA hit Formosa Plastics with a $13 million penalty. This is not news to me. I have been talking with the workers inside the Formosa facility for twenty years and they are all whistle blowers of a sort. They tell me stories about unreported toxic releases, unsafe towers and ladders, rust-filled breathing air valves, breached toxic basins, 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 often sent complaints to Formosa’s management, but the complaints weren’t welcomed. Complaints would get you fired. A few of the workers that I talked with were whistle blowers for the state and federal agencies and provided information in 200l for a wastewater investigation in which the FBI subpoenaed Formosa’s wastewater documents. The alligations were that formosa’s management was manipulating the wastewater reports. In other words, they were cooking the books. That went nowhere, too. A toxic investigator, later, said in their last meeting that even though the EPA/FBI/Texas environmental task force had a case against Formosa, the investigation was dropped. In Texas, it is common knowledge that corporations have big sticks and they use them.
So, the violations didn’t stop. I suppose that is the reason for the recent $13 million settlement/Consent Decree against Formosa Plastics. I guess even the EPA gets fed up. Recent findings by EPA investigators at the Formosa facility in Point Comfort, Texas 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.
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 reproductive damage. Because of the strong, steady wind from the southeast, researchers expected that if Formosa Plastics was the main culprit, then cattle located downwind or northwest from the facility would show larger genetic disturbances. The results provided a “strong indication of increased 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.” Bisset reported damage to cattle both within close proximity of the Formosa facility and in areas where the prevailing winds would blow the toxic gases.
This month, October, 2009 the EPA will conduct a meeting in Calhoun County to discuss Formosa’s extensive ethylene dichloride contamination that has been caused, in part, by their process exceedances, overflows, spills, and general sloppy housekeeping that has forced closure of a nearby state rest area on Highway 35, buy-out of subsequent nearby property, burying of ‘questionable area’ under five foot of soil, and contamination of the groundwater and nearby Cox Creek in the thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands part per million. The safety of 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. I worry about the workers. Many of them have documented thrombocytosis, neurological damage, cognitive impairment, severe peripheral neuropathy that can only be treated with a surgically implanted pump that delivers morphine to the spinal nerves 24/7. One worker worries because a friend in his unit died from brain cancer. Another female worker sniffed the leaking valves and flanges around the PVC unit for leaks and died of angiosarcoma, liver 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 of what they will find-- brain cancer.
The concern abut brain cancer among the workers has been so severe that eventually Formosa got wind of it and sent out a memo to all the vinyl employees that they were bringing in a doctor who could 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. Too much water. After all, the dose makes the poison.
One of Formosa’s workers was involved in the daily logging of vinyl chloride leaks in the PVC unit. The federal safety limit for vinyl chloride for workers in a plant is 1 part per million for eight hours. The vinyl leaks around the PVC unit ranged from 1.2 to 7 to 13 to 35 to 177 to 987 to 6,000 parts per million, and this for every hour of very day of every year. And the worker had been there for 25 years. Another time EDC (ethylene dichloride) was sent in error to the PVC/VCM unit and the workers waded in the stuff for three days with nothing but rubber boots and gloves to protect them. Another time, the process line was tied into the drinking water line and the workers drank vinyl chloride tainted water. This worker’s last act at Formosa was after a supervisor requested he falsify a four-ton vinyl chloride release so that the company could report 2.79 pounds to the EPA.
I am deeply pleased to be giving this greeting at the Ethecon Foundation’s annual Blue Planet and Black Planet Award ceremony. Primarily, because this group has had the fortitude and dogged persistance to track down the individuals and corporate officers responsible for Formosa Plastic’s destructive and irresponsible actions upon the bays that I love and the people that live around them and they have courage to show their faces on the world stage. Bravo Bravo, Ethecon Foundation.