Since the 1970s, at least 200 hectares (ha) of farm-land has been polluted by the heavy metal cadmium (Cd). Consequently, the Cd pollution has led to contaminate the rice production and caused acute social panic. According to the recent investigation results performed by the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration (TEPA), it is indicated that most of the Cd pollution incidents in Taiwan resulted from the waste-water discharge of stearate Cd factories. To prevent the Cd pollution incidents from spreading, the TEPA has either forced these factories to close down or assisted them in improving their production processes since the 1980s. Unfortunately, accidental incidents of Cd pollution still emerge in an endless stream, despite the strict governmental controls placed on these questionable factories. Whether this pollution has resulted from undetected or hidden pollution sources stemming from two decades ago or comes from some new source, will be an outstanding issue. Therefore, this study attempts to identify the pollution sources of Cd in soil in Taiwan as well as to find the solution to the above-mentioned, outstanding issue by way of a methodology termed Material Flow Analysis (MFA).
The MFA has proved to be a useful tool on providing quantitative information of the flow of substances through an economic to an environmental system. Based upon the supply-and-demand theory of MFA, researchers have successfully conducted an overview of the use of materials in many industries, the construction industry being one of these. Therefore, this study tries to establish a set of analytical processes by way of MFA for identifying the pollution source of Cd in soil in Taiwan. In addition, the spirit of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) technique was also employed to identify the materials, and products should be ignored as a crucial pollution source in this study.
According to the MFA methodology applied in this study and on the basis of related studies performed by Taiwanese governmental authorities, we arrive at the following analysis results: (1) the total amount of Cd from the economic perspective of material and product flow was approximately 441.2 tons; (2) the wastewater directly discharged into irrigation water can be concluded to be the major pollution route of Cd in farmland soil in Taiwan; (3) material plastic stabilizer (cadmium oxide, CdO), Zn-Pd compounds and Cu compounds should be the crucial pollution sources to contaminate environment through the route of wastewater in Cd flow analysis; (4) the crucial pollution sources to contaminate environment through the route of wastewater in Cd flow analysis were five factories, Coin, Jili, Taiwan Dye, Guangzheng and Mingguan, and they were all categorized as stearate Cd industries; (5) the typical source of the Cd pollution in soil in Changhua County through the pollution route of wastewater should be the metal surfacing process industries.
This study proved that MFA can be a good tool for identifying Cd flow as well as for recognizing the crux of the problem concerning incidents of Cd pollution. This study led to the conclusion that the causal relationship between farmland pollution caused by Cd and stearate Cd factories in Taiwan seemed quite close by way of MFA methodology. In addition, this study also found that the wastewater discharged from a single metal surfacing process factory will not cause remarkable farmland pollution. However, the wastewater simultaneously discharged from a group of pollution factories can result in a significant pollution incident.
This case study is only a small contribution to the understanding of the toxic material flow related to Cd in the environment. This study recommends that Taiwanese governmental authorities should not deal with problems on an ad hoc basis, but should instead deal with Cd pollution problems overall employing control measures. Finally, the more accurate information or data we can collect, the more reliable results we can identify. Therefore, the quality and quantity of related data used in this MFA model should be closely scrutinized in order to ensure the most correct and comprehensive investigation on the toxic material flow.