Kaohsiung, Sept. 12 (CNA) Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) vowed to conduct a thorough investigation into an ethylene gas leak that occurred Friday afternoon in the city’s Cianjhen District, which brought back memories for many of the deadly gas explosions that rocked the area in 2014.
The underground gas leak was discovered at around 4 p.m. on Friday, when residents near a handicap accessible housing development in the coastal district reported a strange odor rising from manholes.
Following the reports, emergency services cordoned off roads and evacuated about 100 residents, while ordering China General Terminal & Distribution Corp. (CGTD), which transports and stores petrochemical raw materials, to shut down three of its local pipelines to determine the source of the leak.
The leaked substance was later revealed as ethylene, which is widely used in the petrochemical industry to form the plastic polyethylene and, via a hydration process, ethanol fuel.
At around 10 p.m. Friday, the city government announced that the incident had been resolved, and in the early hours of Saturday, CGTD began the process of “purging,” or displacing the remaining ethylene gas in the three pipelines, which it estimated would take about two days.
CGTD operates the closed pipelines for Asia Polymer Corp., Formosa Plastics Group and Taiwan VCM Corp., the city’s Economic Development Bureau later said. It is not yet known in which of the pipes the leak occurred.
Chen, meanwhile, said at a press conference that evening that he would require CGTD to submit a report on the cause of the leak, while vowing that the city would conduct an investigation to determine who was responsible.
However, as the immediate danger posed by the leak receded, the city government came under scrutiny for an alleged lack of transparency in its response, due to the nearly two-hour delay before authorities officially confirmed the incident.
In a statement late Friday, the Kaohsiung City Journalists Association said the city was alerted to the leak at 3:38 p.m., but neglected to make any public announcement until 5:21 p.m., when it published statements on its Facebook and Line accounts.
Particularly in Kaohsiung, which was the site of large-scale gas explosions in 2014, the group said the city’s “blockade” of information on a major public safety incident and disregard for the work done by journalists was “regrettable.”
When asked about the criticism during a press conference on Saturday, Chen apologized and said he had asked the city’s fire department to make improvements.
On July 31, 2014, Kaohsiung’s Cianjheh and Lingya districts were hit by a series of propene gas explosions, which killed 32 people and injured 321.
Following the incident, CGTD, Kaohsiung City Government and an additional company, LCY Chemical Corp., agreed to jointly compensate victims of the blasts. Litigation on criminal responsibility for the incident is ongoing.
(By Wang Shu-fen and Matthew Mazzetta)