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China: Inner-city toxics plant protested

In November last year, construction began on a chemical plant in Haicang district, located on Xiamen island in the capital of Southwestern China's Fujian province, slated to produce the solvent toluene, terephthalic acid, benzene and, for example, an expected annual output of 800,000 tons of the toxic para-xylene which, according to its Wikipedia entry:

“…affects the brain. High levels from exposure for short periods (14 days or less) or long periods (more than 1 year) can cause headaches, lack of muscle coordination, dizziness, confusion, and changes in one's sense of balance. Exposure of people to high levels of xylene for short periods can also cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; difficulty in breathing; problems with the lungs; delayed reaction time; memory difficulties; stomach discomfort; and possibly changes in the liver and kidneys. It can cause unconsciousness and even death at very high levels (see inhalants).”

The plant had originally been placed seven kilometers away from the city center and given a buffer zone, but due to continued expansion is now just 1.5 kilometers from the nearest residential zone, 4 kilometers from the nearest school and 7 kilometers from the downtown core, not to mention having been built within a state-protected natural zone home to rare marine species. The issue was raised at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing this spring via a motion put forth by Chinese Academy of Engineering member Zhao Yufen, former president of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics University Shen Shituan, as well professor in the Chemistry department at Xiamen University and Chinese Academy of Sciences member Tian Zhongqun, calling for the plant to cease operations and relocate. Following this, Zhu Xingxiang, Director-General of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), expressed his agreement with the proposal, but declared SEPA unable to take actions to implement it as the original project had been approved and invested in by the National Development and Reform Commission.

factory1.jpg

Nearly all the information above has come from a steady series of blog posts Southern Metropolis Daily columnist Lian Yue has written for his Lian Yue's Eight Continent blog beginning last month, from ‘Environmental protection officials who can't protect the environment,’ [zh] to ‘What are the people of Xiamen supposed to do!,’ [zh] in which he mentions that information regarding the plant is being surpressed, presumably in local media, with the post making the following suggestions:

1、首先,你不要怕,议论全国政协的头号提案不是罪,你不会被抓的。
2、如果你有BLOG,上论坛,请转载这篇新闻:《厦门百亿化工项目安危争议》;转载国内合法发行的报纸上的新闻也不是罪,你不会被抓的。
3、如果还是害怕,就在近期之内多跟你的朋友、家人、同事议论这件事——他们说不定全不知情。
4、如果你还是怕,那就告诉最好的朋友及家人。
5、如果你不怕,还应该告诉漳州、泉州的朋友,他们一样处于危险之中。
6、说清楚下面几句话就可以了:
7、这是105位全国政协委员反对的化工项目,他们中包括了最权威的专家。
8、PX项目至少应该离城市一百公里才安全。
9、厦门人至今被剥夺了PX项目的知情权,这反证了它是违反民意的。
10、它将使厦门经济倒退,物业贬值、游客减少;而且厦门人还将由此落下软弱与愚蠢的名声。
11、你得癌症的可能性大大提高了。
12、不需要你有太勇敢的举动,只要你让你身边的人都知道这件事以后,厦门之死你就没有责任了。

1. First off, don't be afraid. Discussing top proposals put forth at the CPPCC is not a crime, you won't be arrested.
2. If you have a blog or frequent online forums, please spread this news article: ‘The controversy over the Xiamen chemical factory worth billions'; distribution of news from newspapers legally distributed within the country is not a crime, you will not be arrested.
3. If you're still afraid, during this time meet more often with friends, family and colleagues to discuss this matter—they might not have all the details.
4. If you're still scared, then try just talking to your best friends and immediate family.
5. If you're not afraid, you ought to tell your friends in Zhangzhou and Quanzhou, they're in as much danger as you are.
6. Explaining the below few lines is enough to get started:
7. This project was opposed by 105 national members of the CPPCC, which includes some of the most authoritative experts.
8. The para-xylene (PX) project will only be safe if at least 100 kilometers from the city.
9. To this day, Xiamen residents have been deprived of the right to know about the PX project; this just proves that it is in violation of the people's will.
10. It stands to put Xiamen's economy into reverse; property prices will go down, tourism will decrease, and from this Xiamen residents stand to gain a reputation for being weak and stupid.
11. The chances that you will gain cancer will be significantly increased.
12. There's no need for you to commit any acts of bravery, just as long as you let the people around you know, you won't be responsible for the death of Xiamen.

..and his recommendation [zh] of ‘Haicang, My Home‘, the Sina.com blog set up by residents of Haicang district last month, particularly the March 29 post copied back from a bbs forum, ‘The cries of residents of Xiamen city, Fujian province——please save our rights to live!‘ [zh]:

每次打电话到110以及12369环保投诉电话,得到的答案是他们马上派人去看工厂生产是否正常。还有人员解释说他们已经测试过这此企业,大部份达到国家排放标准,有部份企业微微超标,已有在整改。还说是企业就会污染,一点点是很正常的。可居民是没有任何污染数据的,甚至海沧区成立3年来连个空气监近控点也没有,厦门市每天都有预报空气质量,可唯一落下的就是海沧区。我们要的是新鲜空气啊。这种能让人从睡梦中呛醒的味道能说对人体无害吗?何况7月份福建省环保局联合厦门市环保局有对海沧进行三天的空气质量监测,结果是硫化氢及臭气浓度等多项指标都超过了国家标准。(报告在市、区环保局)

Every time we call the police or the evironmental protection hotline, the answer we are given is that someone will be coming right away to see if the plant is operating properly or not. And then there's the people who tell us they've already done tests on the enterprise, and it for the most parts meets national emission standards, only slightly testing over the limit, and that adjustments are currently being made. They also say that it's normal for an enterprise to emit a little pollution. Yet the residents have not received any data on the pollution, not even monitoring of the air quality index in the three years since the district was established three years ago. Xiamen has air quality forecasts done every day, yet the only area overlooked is Haicang district. We just want fresh air! These smells strong enough to wake people up in the middle of the night do no harm to the body? Even when the Fujian provincial environmental protection agency teamed up wtih the Xiamen city government environmental protection agency in September to carry out a three-day monitoring of air quality in Haicang, the result was that hydrogen sulphide levels and the strength of stench had surpassed national standards (report available at the city and district environmental protection agencies).

factory.jpg

我们也做过努力,三年前就非常多的声音反映到市政府,在厦门各个论坛上抱怨,可换来的是当地政府为了厦门市的形象及海沧房地产的健康发展竟然和网站沟通,把所有关于厦门污染的贴子全隐藏了。隐藏后改善本来是极其妥善的办法,但几年过去了污染没有改善,反倒连本带利的愈加严重。人们群众的声音总是有限的。地方政府重GDP而轻环境保护是子孙们的悲哀啊!
我们用事实说话。请中央救救咱们吧、救救我们来之不易的劳动成果、能守着累了倦了可以靠它来栖身的家!

We've been putting in effort too. Three years ago an extremely large number of vocal feedback was given to the city government, and complaints were on every bbs forum in Xiamen. In return, in order to protect the image of the Xiamen city government and the Haicang real estate developers’ healthy expansion, the local government actually talked to the websites and had all posts regarding pollution in Xiamen taken down. Making improvements after taking the posts down would be an extremely appropriate method, but several years later, the pollution still hasn't seen any improvements, in contrary things in this area have just gotten worse. The voices of the people will always have their limit. That the local governmant values GDP so highly and takes protecting the environment so lightly will be the sorrow of our grandchildren!
We're telling the truth. Central government, please save us. Save the hard-earned fruits of our labors! Save the homes in which we so tiredly live!

A search through Google Images for the words “Haicang” and “pollution” “could not be displayed” past the fourth page of a full set of results, which show nothing of the plant, the usual condition when Google is used to search for sensitive keywords, and a similar search using Chinese search engine Baidu brought back only two photos—one of which no longer exists, and the other, a map of downtown Xiamen—attached to what appears to have once been “a mass petition for the victims of air pollution in Haicang” (海沧受害者大签名—-空气污染). In this photo, Haicang is the large residential area in the upper-right and the factory in question is in the upper-left:

xiamen.jpg

Similar is this image, posted at the Haicang residents’ blog along with the text and link to an undated submission, with a response, to the Fujian Environmental Protection Bureau complaints website:

xiamen2.jpg

83 comments

  • Giriffe Giraffe

    Thanks to John Kennedy for his work. I have three corrections for the sake of clarity in this important matter. 1. Xiamen is not the capital of Fujian. It is a “sub-provincial level” municipality [meaning XM may ignore the local capital in many matters]. XM is the site of a Special Economic Zone, the only one outside Guangdong. The SEZ is positioned to become a gateway to Taiwan investment. 2. Haicang district is not on Xiamen island. XMI has only two districts, both of which comprise the SEZ. XM municipality also runs four districts on the mainland. Haicang, one of these, has long been a sort of watering hole for industrial investors. Kodak is maybe its best known international corporate citizen. Xianglu [or Hsianglu] of Taiwan is the citizen in question. It has operated two factories for some time [cf the photos above]; the paraXylene plant opening in ’09 will be its third. 3. The aerial/satellite photo that Kennedy found on Baidu does not show downtown Xiamen–“downtown” would mean a part of one of the districts over on the populous island. What the aerial/satellite photo shows is a part of Haicang district. The residentail area top right is thus not Haicang–but the district government is there. Note the other residential areas middle right and bottom right, along the shore of Xiamen bay [and facing the island]. The paraXylene factory is not top left, but pretty much in the centre [the green arrow in the second photo]. The other two Xianglu factories lie just north and south of it. BTW : Kennedy’s piece was posted on the blocked-in-china China Digital Times on April 7th. It followed another good piece on the subject by Mo Ming, who had just attended the municipal People’s Political Consultative Congress and been surprised at the effectiveness of censorship on this issue.

  • Margaret L.

    Thank you for publishing this in English. I am a resident in Xiamen and was made aware of this project only this morning. A demonstration is being organized for the morning of June 1. The only thing it will achieve is prbably to make more people aware of the danger of this project.

    There are a lot of other foreign investments in Xiamen. For a while Xiamen’s goal was to become a city like Hong Kong or Singapore with pollution free light industries and a financial center where large companies could move their headquarters to this beautiful small island. It is quite short-sighted to sacrafice the environment and put the people in harm’s way in order to boost its GDP. With more and more people aware of this project, less and less business will want to move to Xiamen. And that is the only thing the local government might care to consider. Not that the local government has much of say in this issue. The project is obviously backed by the higher level authority. What the article did not mention is the background of the PX project investor, Chen You Hao.

    Chen You-hao (陳由豪, pinyin: Chén Yóuháo) is a fugitive businessman wanted by Taiwan. In August 2002 Chen You-hao was indicted on charges of breach of trust and fled Taiwan. He was charged stealing about NT$800 million from the Tuntex Group’s subsidiary Tunghua Development in 1995. Chen You-hao, after having his ROC passport canceled for refusing to return to Taiwan to face prosecution, he fled to the United States using a PRC passport. —- entry from Wikipedia

    This is the type of man the government chose to work with. No integrity, no social consience.

  • mary xiao

    I hate this kind of pollution companys very much! They are just knew how to make more money for themselves, but they have never been to care people’s health and air pollution in xiamen city .And they will killing people and nice city soon if they are not be stoped by government, Hoping the government will care of it for xiamen people,we will be appreciation!

  • zeng yuhong

    thank u!
    thank u for what u done for this city, for the people who live in it.
    1st june, there will be a march in xiamen. Call for our legal right.
    we are trying our best to save our island, save our life.

  • zhujinlin

    I will take part in the march in june 1.

    Anti-px,save Xiamen,save my hometown.

    Thank u

  • Thanks Margaret, Mary, Yuhong and Jinlin! The Guangzhou crew hopes to see you all there.

  • jingo

    Thanks for your work! I am a resident in XIAMEN and will have my daughter after 2 months.Now I must do something to protect my family.

  • Many thanks for your work!
    All of Xiamen people love you!

  • zeng yufeng

    I support you Xiamen people. I love you fighting for your rights!

  • Catherine Zhou

    Thank you gentleman, although I am overseas, I still very care about this event, I hope 1st Jun will have thousands of people join into this march and protest the PX pollution in Xiamen, I saw lots of logo from internet as well as desighed T-shirt.

    I really hope the government will notice they are wrong!!!I am afraid to imagine my home town become rare signs of human habitation few years after…onlt left the chemical factory smoking…

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