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September 19, 2017

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Gov't must think long-term amid Formosa Plastics fracas

Given recent protests in Changhua County and strong resistance from parents in Yunlin County whose children were ordered to leave a school campus over cancer fears, it is clear that the country is undergoing a transformation that requires government action.

The nation is transforming from a primarily manufacturing-based economy to a more commercial one; from fossil-fuel based power sources to renewable and green energy; and from a more conservative generation that honors tradition to one that treasures diversity and uniqueness.

Protests first broke out in Yunlin County in late August, when 62 students from a local school branch located 0.9 kilometers from the Formosa Plastics Group's (FPG) Sixth Naphtha Refinery were ordered to transfer to the school's main campus, farther away from the refinery.

The reaction from parents at the school was the opposite of what many members of the public had expected.

Instead of preparing the students for the transfer, and perhaps considering relocating their homes over cancer concerns, parents refused the Executive Yuan's order and brought the protest from Yunlin County to the capital city.

Approximately 300 demonstrators, including parents and villagers, marched outside the Executive Yuan, proclaiming that the students' right to an education had been overlooked by a reckless central government interfering in local affairs from a remote location and "favoring certain people."

Rumors spread in Mailiao District — where the school branch is located — that the professor who conducted the report warning of acute health risks at the school had been rejected by Formosa Plastics for a research grant application and was targeting the company in retaliation.

Diverse opinions — with or without evidence — aroused fervent debate on social media. But as media attention focused on the transfer order itself, little was said on the termination of the toxic plants in the petrochemical complex, or about creating stricter laws to reduce emissions.

The new investigation into students' health conditions in the area is expected to be released by November, four months after the government compromised with parents and launched another round of inspections that was in fact based on the same scientific methods as the previous one.

As parents in Yunlin await a decision about whether their students can remain at the school in the long term, thousands of employees in Changhua County protested against the county government in support of another subsidiary of Formosa Plastics, which environmentalists have said is poisoning local air quality.

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