Around Asia, Singapore is known as one of the world’s leading chemical manufacturing hubs. It has attracted a number of global industry players despite strict environmental controls. The city-state’s chemical industry is managing to protect people and property while working with some very dangerous substances.
Professor William Chen teaches drug metabolism at School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. He is an expert on how human body deals with not only drugs, but also chemicals, like pollutants. We ask him about the toxicity of paraxylene, or PX, the chemical that caused concerns in China.
"Paraxylene is an aromatic compound; usually you find it in the air. Fortunately, our body can dispose of this compound pretty easily, so it does not accumulate in our body under normal situation. On the other hand, all these toxic effect to our body all depends on the duration of the exposure, in additional to the concentration. If I have a chronic exposure, over time you are exposed to paraxylene, the effect may be not negligible." Chen said.
Paraxylene is a chemical essential to the process of manufacturing plastic bottles and polyester clothing. The demand for this chemical is increasing, with Asia accounts for more than two-thirds of the global needs. Singapore is also a producer. Jurong Aromatics Corporation, a joint venture between eight shareholders, including Singapore’s Economic Development Board, is building a 2.4 billion dollar complex that is scheduled to operate this month. Like other petrochemical companies, JAC is located on Jurong Island.
Behind me, all these vehicles are waiting to go through the checkpoint to enter Jurong Island, which is the centerpiece of Singapore’s energy and chemical industry. It started as a bold dream to turn seven little islands surrounded by seawater and swampland into an integrated chemical hub. Today. Jurong Island is home to more than 100 global petrochemical companies with over 33 billion dollars in investment.
As a self-contained hub with a network of infrastructure, Jurong Island is a one-stop shop for chemical companies. The island is 2-point-3 kilometers away from mainland Singapore, and is under constant air, sea and land surveillance. At the checkpoint, security screenings are carried out as vehicles and personnel enter Jurong Island. The chemical hub also has its own fire station with a team of 40 fire fighters. The station can respond to emergency situation in any part of the island in less than 8 minutes.
To argue about whether paraxylene is high toxicity or low toxicity is futile. Singapore’s example shows the crucial part to manage the chemical sector is to ensure the industry takes good precaution and implements the safety measures properly. Therefore, there will be very little leakage to the environment.