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Environmental Policy of Taiwan: Soil and Groundwater Remediation


In the XXI century, the local environmental issues have taken the nature of the global environmental crisis, spreading across the globe. In particular, the problem of soil and groundwater contamination is faced by almost every country in the world, including Taiwan. The primary reason for such disastrous situation is the fact that during the planning and implementation of the measures for achievement of the material progress of the country throughout the XX century, the environmental foundations of human life and the lives of the other creatures were not taken into account. With this approach, most of the resources taken from nature are returned to it in the form of waste, often toxic or unsuitable for recycling. This creates a threat to the existence of the biosphere and the mankind. Since the 1960s, the density of the population on Taiwan has increased, so its agricultural sector must produce increasing amounts of food, while the cultivated area per person is reduced due to population growth, urbanization, industrialization, and non-agricultural land use. As a result, the soil becomes subject to pollution. It should be noted that in contrast to water and air, the soil is the most objective and stable indicator of man-made pollution as it clearly reflects the amount of pollutants and their distribution.

In order to address these issues, the development of a comprehensive environmental policy that is focused on the remediation and protection of soil and groundwater of Taiwan is required. In this process, the primary role is played by the state. However, in the modern society, it is not the only subject of environmental policy, but only one of them, along with political parties, scientific and professional organizations, economic entities, social movements, etc. Still, the environmental policy is an important part of any state policy and the way of its implementation affects the attitude of citizens, local authorities, and organizations towards the state authorities, which presents the need for considering their potential reaction to it.

Therefore, the following work is dedicated to the review of the remediation policy conducted by the Taiwanese authorities in order to address the problem of soil and groundwater contamination by using the six policy criteria that define the attitude towards it and proposing a solution to mitigate its potential negative consequences.

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Problem Description

The island of Taiwan is one of the most densely populated places on Earth with population density of 636 people per square kilometer. The primary agricultural and industrial areas, as well as large cities are concentrated on the west coast of the island, which results in a significant pressure on the environment. Naturally, in such circumstances, any environmental problem could be a disaster. Over the past 50 years, Taiwan has managed to achieve success in such areas as the economy, education, social security, health care, culture, and recreation. However, the success came down at the cost of the environmental pollution. In particular, this problem has become so serious that in 1995, the German magazine Der Spiegel has used an unflattering word Schweinestall (pigsty) to describe the ecology of the island. Among the ecological issues of Taiwan, the problem of soil and groundwater contamination, namely with heavy metals, is the most pressing.

As a result, in the 2010s, the soils of Taiwan (primarily the ones located in the urban areas) are contaminated with wastewater from various plants, which contains petroleum derivates, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and heavy metal compounds. The situation is especially serious in the special municipality of Kaohsiung – a major industrial center of Taiwan, which is located in the southwestern part of the island. In particular, it houses the largest metallurgical plants, shipyards, and oil refineries of the country, which also produce a significant amount of pollutants. In particular, petroleum derivates and mineralized waters (about 90.2% of all the soil and groundwater pollutants in Taiwan) lead not only to the pollution of soils, but also to their salinization (an increase in the amount of mineral salts in the soil). However, the most significant threat comes from the island’s electronic and chemical industry, which is among the largest producers of the heavy metal compounds (lead, cadmium, and mercury). Despite accounting for only 1.4% of the total amount of pollutants, they are especially dangerous due to their ability to accumulate in the soil and groundwater without dissolution. As a result, there is a high possibility of them ending up in the human organism. The situation in the rural areas of the island is also rather serious. However, in this case, the pollutants are complemented by the swine wastewater. As a result, nowadays, there are about 1,500 polluted sites in Taiwan.

In addition, the groundwater of the island is also contaminated with heavy metals due to the impact of the mentioned wastewaters. In the light of the increasing consumption of groundwater in Taiwan, this problem becomes especially relevant for Pingtung County, where groundwater plays a significant role in water supply of settlements located in lowland basins. On the plains of Pingtung County, water industry and agriculture are rather developed. Moreover, it is planned to construct a new industrial complex there, which may increase the vulnerability of the local groundwater to contamination of the territory.

The problem is exacerbated even further by the fact that there are virtually no chances that the contaminated soil and groundwater will be cleaned naturally, i.e. via decomposition and neutralization of harmful substances. In particular, the chemical processes in them are extremely slow. Therefore, the process of a self-purification of the soil, as compared to that of the atmosphere, is also slow. As a result, harmful substances accumulate in the soil, eventually becoming a threat to humans. Moreover, self- purification of the soil can only occur in the case of its contamination with organic waste, which is subject to biochemical oxidation. At the same time, heavy metals and salts thereof gradually accumulate in the soil and can reach its deeper layers, and, therefore, the groundwater. However, a deep plowing of the soil may resurface them, resulting in their return to the food chain. Thus, the rapid development of industrial production in Taiwan leads to an increase of the industrial waste, which together with household waste significantly affects the chemical composition of the soil and groundwater.

All the above mentioned facts contribute to the relevance of the problem of the soil and groundwater contamination in Taiwan, resulting in the need for the development and implementation of the remediation policy by the local authorities, which will be reviewed further.


For several decades, Taiwan was completely neglecting the problem of environmental pollution and in an effort to boost employment and encourage exports created a large number of companies that pollute the environment. Nowadays the seriousness of the problem is finally realized. Therefore, beginning from the 1990s, years the government of Taiwan has invested large sums in the measures to protect and restore the environment. Unfortunately, the restoration of the polluted areas is no easy task. In the terms of addressing the problem of soil and groundwater contamination, the Taiwanese government has adopted the Soil and Groundwater Pollution Remediation Act (SGWPRA). According to it, all the contaminated soils of the country are to be divided into the two categories – the controlled and remediated ones, depending on the grade of pollution. The remediation of the polluted soils and groundwater can be carried out by using the following fifteen measures, which can be divided on the three groups – biological (bioaugmentation, bioventing, biosparging, bioslurping, and phytoremediation), chemical (precipitation, ion exchange, carbon absorption, chemical oxidation, surfactant recovery, and the installation of the permeable reactive barriers), and physical (attenuation, vacuum extraction, pump and treat, and air sparging). Thus, it is possible to say that there are a lot of options to choose from. However, by taking into account the peculiarities of geography of Taiwan (high density of the population, the concentration of industries and cities on the small patches of land, and, as a result, its over-exploitation), it has been decided to choose the following three methods for the remediation of the Taiwanese soil and groundwater:

  • Attenuation – mixing the polluted soil with the clean one. This method is rather fast and cheap but it has almost no effect on the state of the polluted groundwater;
  • In situ chemical stabilization – chemical neutralization of the pollutants (oxidation and chemical precipitation) is considered to be the most economical method;
  • Phytoremediation – the extraction of the pollutants in the natural way (via plants). It is the slowest method, which can be used in the areas with low to medium level of pollution. However, it is also the most gentle one, having no negative effects on the soil and, as well as the positive effect on the state of groundwater.

It is clear that the presented remediation measures will cause a strain on the country’s budget without the additional funding. In order to address this issue, the SGWPRA has also introduced a remediation fee. Being based on the example of the U.S., this initiative involve the government collecting the fee from the pollution producers every three months, with its size depending on the amount of the specific pollutants produced during a particular period of time. The collected funds are to be used for the implementation of the abovementioned remediation measures.

Thus, it is clear that despite being developed with the best of intentions, the described act will not be met unambiguously as it imposes certain restrictions on the exploitation of the country’s soils, which may have a negative impact on the agricultural and construction sector. In addition, it also introduces a remediation fee for a wide array of businesses. By taking into account that the majority of Taiwanese industries produce heavy metal compounds (chemical and electronic industry) and the other pollutants that are hazardous to the soil and groundwater (oil refinery and metallurgy), it is clear that almost every company will be forced to pay the fee, which may result in dissatisfaction of the local businessmen with the SGWPRA. However, the most pressing problem is the opposition of the indigenous population of Taiwan to the environmental policy of the Taiwanese government. It should be noted that the tension between these two parties has begun during the 1980s, when the first environmental laws have been adopted in Taiwan, namely the ones focused on the conservation of the local wildlife. In particular, the activities of the indigenous population of Taiwan, namely hunting, poaching, and wild meat trade, have been viewed as one of the primary reasons for the decline of the Taiwanese wildlife. In this regard, the indigenous people have been considered wildlife killers. As a result, the Taiwanese environmental activists have struggled against the indigenous hunting, being able to promote the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1989. According to it, the hunting of the animals that were under protection was strictly prohibited. As a result, the indigenous people were forced to change their field of activity, primarily by focusing on the agriculture.

Of course, the measures taken by the Taiwanese environmental activists did not contribute to the improvement of relationship between them and the indigenous population of Taiwan, laying the basis for the opposition between these two parties. However, as was mentioned before, the increasing degree of soil and groundwater contamination that has been observed since the 1990s has given rise to the discussion of the impact the development activities have on the environment of Taiwan, as well as the direct connection of the overuse of the land (agricultural activity is one of the sources of soil and groundwater pollution) and its degradation. Yet again, the people living in the Pingtung County (most of them are indigenous) and their over-exploitation of the land are considered to be one of the reasons of the growing degree of soil and groundwater pollution in the area. As was mentioned before, the remediation activities proposed by the SGWPRA involve the introduction of limitations on the exploitation of the contaminated land sites. This move is sure to provoke a widespread dissatisfaction from the local society, as it would undermine their well-being, which has been previously marginalized by the adoption of the Wildlife Conservation Act. Thus, it is clear that the social awareness of the local population is still quite low.

All the listed factors are to be taken into account and assessed during the implementation of the SGWPRA, as is described further.

Six Policy Criteria

Prior to the implementation of the SGWPRA, the policymakers must consider the potential reaction it may trigger. The presented chart will allow defining its potential advantages and vulnerabilities depending on the particular criterion (Table 1).

Table 1

Points to be considered by the Taiwanese policymakers




Reaction of the elected officials

The nationwide nature of the problem will pressure the elected official of all levels to act quickly and efficiently. Such actions will contribute to the government’s credibility, improving the political stability in the area.

As was mentioned before, the southern and southwestern parts of the island are the most polluted ones. As a result, the responsibility of the governors of Pingtung County and Kaohsiung will be much higher than that of the others. In the conditions of limited resources, this fact may result in them struggling to obtain a larger share of the remediation fund.

Reaction of the non-governmental stakeholders

The reflection of the ecological situation in the mass media may force the local authorities to act and affect the community itself (especially the indigenous population), resulting in the social awareness of the importance of the SGWPRA for Taiwan.

The authorities can be pressured by the environmental organizations.

The local companies may participate in the remediation process to obtain the status of socially responsible organizations.

The introduction of the mentioned remediation fee may result in many companies understating the amount of the pollutants producing by them, either by bribing the officials responsible for gathering such data or corrupting it by themselves. As a result, the receipts to the remediation fund will be lowered while the ecological situation will not be improved.

Human and ecological health

In the long-term perspective, the health of the local population, as well as the ecological situation in the area, will improve significantly.

The effects of the heavy metal compounds on the human health will be felt even after decades.

In case the state and local authorities will not be able to come to consensus in the question of remediation policy, it will virtually have no positive effect on the state of human and ecological health.

Economic costs and benefits

The introduction of remediation fund will allow avoiding the strain on the country’s budget and provide a sustainable amount of financial resources for the implementation of remediation measures.

The presence of the additional source of funding may result in an increase in corruption among the officials, meaning the fund will not be used for its initial purpose.

The wrong choice of the remediation method for the particular contaminated site may result in the significant financial losses and, therefore, lower the efficiency of the remediation policy as a whole.

Moral imperatives

The government is responsible for the well-being of the country’s citizens, namely in the terms of their environmental safety.

The social responsibility of the large companies implores them to act in the interests of the society, involving the measures on environmental protection.

The lack of actions from the side of the government both on the local and state levels may result in the loss of credibility for it.

Time and flexibility

The presence of a wide array of remediation methods allows adjusting the process, providing certain flexibility in this matter. The use of the attenuation method will give rather fast results.

The remediation of the soil and groundwater is a rather time-consuming process. As a result, there will be no immediate effect, which may turn many stakeholders away from SGWPRA, lowering its efficiency.


The environmental policy has become an indispensable component of the politics not only in Taiwan but also the entire world. The sustainable and responsible use of natural resources is among the most pressing challenges presented by the modern realities. In particular, such resource as the soil is an enormous natural wealth, which provides humans with food, and industries – with raw materials. Under the normal conditions, it does not lose its properties, and even becomes more fertile. However, the value of the soil is determined not only by its economic importance for agriculture and the other sectors of the economy; it is also an essential component of all terrestrial biota and biosphere of the planet as a whole. Therefore, it is clear how great and varied are the role and importance of soil in the economy and in the life of human society. At the same time, the groundwater, which is closely connected with the soil, is an indispensable source of fresh water. In order to protect these natural resources, a clear and consistent environmental policy is required. However, as has been show by the example of Taiwan, it will always have the opponents due to the restrictions it imposes on the industry and the society as a whole.

Therefore, it is important to weigh all the advantages and vulnerabilities it presents to the different social groups in order to avoid conflicts and ensure its high efficiency. In particular, in order to prevent the dissatisfaction with the environmental policy and, therefore, the loss of the Taiwanese government’s credibility, it is necessary to find a compromise between the environmental protection and the interests of the stakeholders. First of all, it is necessary to create a social awareness of the importance for soil and groundwater protection in Taiwan. This can be achieved by presenting research data on the bioavailiability of heavy metals ion the soil and groundwater, as well as their effect on the human health, especially in the long-term perspective. It is also important to develop and coordinate the cooperation between the Taiwanese governors in order to achieve more even distribution of responsibility among them and avoid misunderstandings during the use of remediation fund. In addition, the control over the amount of the produced pollutants is to be conducted on the level of the state, without intermediaries, to lower the possibility of data corruption. Such measure will serve as a stimulus for the companied to reduce the amount of waste through the implementation of the environment-friendly technologies and solutions. In turn, such initiative will earn them a status of obtain the status of socially responsible organizations, improving their image both on the local and global markets.

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