by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: 阿貴/WikiCommons/CC
LOCAL RESIDENTS demonstrated late last month against plans by the Chung Shyang Hospital to relocate to a building in the Farglory Industrial Park in Zhonghe, New Taipei. The Farglory Industrial Park mostly consists of electronics and printing factories.
In particular, local residents have safety concerns about the hospital regarding a number of issues. Most prominently, local residents fear contamination to their water supply from medical waste from the hospital. This is due to the fact that pipes for the hospital and the building as a whole may be connected, as well as due to that elevators are shared, and there are fears that medical waste from the hospital could end up mixed with building waste.
Likewise, some safety concerns have been raised about the construction of the hospital on the first floor of the building it will be in, with regards to that this might affect structural integrity. It is feared that changes to the building structure could be dangerous in the event of an earthquake or similar natural disaster, leading to a building collapse similar to the Weiguan Jinlong collapse that took place in Tainan in February 2016. The Weiguan Jinlong collapse left 114 dead, with it later found that food oil canisters had been used as part of the structure’s construction as a cost-cutting measure at the expense of safety.
To operate, the hospital must be approved by the New Taipei city government’s Environmental Protection Bureau and Department of Health. Medical waste must be removed by a Class A waste treatment and removal agency and medical facilities with more than twenty beds require a wastewater disposal plan to be submitted before it can dispose of wastewater.
Though the hospital move has been reviewed by the New Taipei Department of Health’s Medical Review Committee, the Environmental Protection Bureau has stated that to its knowledge, it has not yet submitted plans for treating and disposing of waste that it will need. If the hospital begins to operate without securing the necessary permits, it can be fined 10,000 NT to 6 million NT.
What led to fears from local residents was that the hospital operator apparently did not communicate construction plans to them before it began construction. Local residents, who appear to be mostly opposed to the hospital, fear that the hospital is to be a long-term care treatment facility that will offer dialysis services. Legal standards for disposing of waste from dialysis facilities are more stringent.
For its part, the hospital management claims that the hospital is intended for outpatient services, and will not be a long-term care center. The hospital will have twenty emergency beds and sixteen beds for respiratory care, having originally been approved to run a hospital with capacity in 1998, and having been established in 1983.
However, local residents have accused the hospital of providing inexact plans, and not being clear about what it intended to do. Likewise, residents have been critical of a lack of transparency about the building’s construction.
Protests against the Chung Shyang Hospital, then, follow a familiar pattern in Taiwan. Development, whether for public infrastructure or for private businesses, often takes place without consultation with local residents. Local residents may only find out about planned demolitions of their homes shortly before this is to take place, or have few measures available to them except to move out. Likewise, local residents of neighborhoods may have businesses they oppose or unwanted infrastructure foisted upon them.
Government regulation on the matter is not always helpful. Indeed, the local government is routinely accused of turning a blind eye to illegal construction or businesses. This can occur from bureaucratic inertia that leads to inaction, or due to kickbacks received by the government from businesses or from contractors pursuing government tenders.
To this extent, issues regarding industrial pollution have long affected individuals living near industrial areas. For the same reasons, there is sometimes a failure to take action on the matter. This could perhaps be the case with hospital facilities as well, particularly when medical waste can end up contaminating water supplies or otherwise affecting the health of residents.