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Dengue Fever Cases Surge Following Taiwanese Explosion

Outbreak adds to clouds over future of region’s petrochemical industry

by Jean-François Tremblay
August 22, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 34

Credit: He Junchang/Xinhua Press/Corbis
Workers clear debris at the Kaohsiung explosion site.
Credit: He Junchang/Xinhua Press/Corbis
Workers clear debris at the Kaohsiung explosion site.

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control reports that cases of dengue fever are surging in the southern city of Kaohsiung, where a chemical explosion last month killed 30 people and injured hundreds of others. The outbreak is adding both to the city’s hardship following the blast and to the troubles of the area’s chemical industry.

The parts of the city that are closest to the blast site are hardest hit by the fever, according to Kaohsiung’s Department of Health. Heavy rains in the days following the disaster caused pools of water, which aren’t draining as they should because the explosion damaged the drainage system, the agency says. The country has ordered its military to assist Kaohsiung in controlling the disease.

As of Aug. 18, Taiwan’s CDC had recorded 878 cases this year of dengue fever nationwide. The 171 new cases reported in the week before were almost all in Kaohsiung. By comparison, Taiwan registered fewer than 200 cases of the illness between January and October 2013. Dengue is a mosquito-borne disease that causes fever as well as muscle and joint pain. It is sometimes fatal.

The July 31 accident will likely cloud the future of Taiwan’s petrochemical industry for years to come. The explosion was caused by a leak in a pipeline, buried under a densely populated neighborhood, that was delivering propylene gas to LCY Chemical, a Taiwanese producer of industrial chemicals. For residents of Kaohsiung, it was an unwelcome cap to what activists say have been decades of industrial accidents, spills, and ground contamination caused by the local petrochemical industry.

After the blast, Taiwan’s government promised that it will rethink the future of the island’s petrochemical industry, which is disproportionately based in or near Kaohsiung.

In particular, the government said it may encourage the relocation of some facilities in Kaohsiung to Dalinpu and Fenglingtou, two seaside communities in southern Taiwan. But, claiming that the petrochemical industry poses extreme danger, environmental groups and residents from the two locations organized a protest as soon as they learned of the plan.



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