ASE faces possible halt due to water pollution

A plant of Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, the world's largest semiconductor packaging company, might receive an order to halt operation if it fails to file an acceptable explanation to the local government by December 19.

A plant of Taiwan-based Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) in southern Kaohsiung City might be given a government order to shut down because of concerns over water pollution.

ASE, the world's largest semiconductor assembly and test service provider, was fined TW$600,000 ($20,300) on December 9 by Kaohsiung City Government for discharging untreated industrial wastewater into the Houjin River.

According to the city's Environmental Protection Bureau, the ASE's "K7" plant in the Nanzi industrial complex seriously polluted Houjin River with untreated wastewater containing heavy metals, including carcinogenic nickel compounds. The concentration of nickel found in the wastewater in the plant's discharging pipes was 4.38 milligrams per liter, four times the acceptable limit, which is 1 milligram per liter.

In accordance with environmental laws in Taiwan, ASE will be given 10 days to file an acceptable explanation. Otherwise, a government order demanding an immediate halt will be delivered to the plant in two weeks, and the operation will have to be immediately halted when the notification is received.

The bureau said on December 10 that a comprehensive investigation will be launched to identify the damage caused to more than 900 hectares of cropland irrigated by the polluted river.

Meanwhile, ASE also faces criminal investigation over the pollution allegations. The bureau on took the case to the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office December 10 on suspicion that ASE's K7 plant was intentionally releasing untreated wastewater into the river, the state-run Central News Agency reported. According to the bureau, the plant's alleged action "put public health at risk" because the water in the river is used for irrigation purposes downstream.

The bureau's records show that between July 2011 and October 2013, the plant had been fined seven times for improperly discharging industrial wastewater. Taiwan's Minister of Environmental Protection Administration Stephen Shen said on December 10 that a comprehensive investigation of ASE's long-term violation of environmental laws would be launched.

ASE attributed the pollution accident to human error regarding the handling of hydrochloric acid containers, and an internal investigation has been launched. "We will bring up our explanation and an improvement proposal within 10 days to the local government," Tien Wu, ASE chief operating officer, told a news conference on Tuesday in Taipei.

Wu added that ways to avoid future pollution include better training of workers and upgrading equipment systematically.

An ASE press release from Tuesday says the company sincerely regrets the recent incident of an accidental discharge of wastewater containing abnormal levels of acidity. "The company has accepted full responsibility for the oversight, and to avoid any future occurrences, the ASE management has immediately taken corrective actions to step up employee training, tighten the monitoring systems, and upgrade the infrastructure to better manage the treatment of wastewater," the statement says.

It also says that ASE is fully cooperating with the local government to submit all relevant reports and adhere strictly to regulations stipulated by the national and local environmental authorities.

According to ASE, its K7 plant remains in operation, with the company stressing that it will do everything it can to meet the improvement requirements of the local government, the CNA reported.

Labor and environmental groups criticized ASE's illegality leading to water pollution. Activists told a news conference on December 10 in Taipei that the company enjoys a tax exemption of nearly TW$3 billion ($101.5 million) in the last five years, but pays little attention to the environment. They urged the government to ask for TW$3 billion compensation from the company for future environmental treatment.

There are 5,000 ASE employees, including 2,000 foreign guest workers, working at the A7 wafer bumping plant. The monthly revenue of the plant is about $75 million, according to CNA.

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