Zhang Changsheng, a 54-year-old farmer in Houlong village in Pingnan county of Fujian province, points at the landfill near his village on Nov 13, 2010. Nine villagers have been detained for protesting the polluting site. [Photo by Zhu Xingxin / China Daily]
PINGNAN, Fujian - A protest by more than 100 villagers against a garbage landfill project in Pingnan county of East China's Fujian province has entered its 40th day.
The protest, which started on Oct 11 in Houlong village of Pingnan, has forced the suspension of the project as the villagers take turns guarding the garbage pit to prevent trucks from pouring waste into the landfill.
The protesters have blocked the entrance to the dump every day from 8 am to 5 pm, and nine protesters have been detained in the process.
The project, including a household waste landfill site and a chemical waste disposal facility, was launched in 2005 to dispose of the household waste of 40,000 people in Pingnan county. It is situated 7 km from the village and 5 km from the nearby Rongping chemical plant.
At a cost of 39 million yuan ($5.9 million), the project covers 15.5 hectares of land and has a designed daily capacity of 120 tons of garbage.
Local officials said the dumping started in 2008, although villagers claimed the landfill has been in operation since 2007, causing foul smells as well as attracting flies and other pests.
The villagers have been protesting since the construction started in 2006 and they have forced the suspension of the project several times by crowding into the site or blocking the entrance.
"We tried to persuade the villagers to be rational," Weng Zhixiong, deputy director of Pingnan Public Security Bureau, told China Daily.
But protesters blocked the entrance again on Oct 11 and the security bureau detained nine of them on Oct 18.
"There were no physical confrontations and they didn't cause any direct financial losses, but we had to consider the huge potential loss of the suspension of the project."
Huang Chengkai, director of the dump project, claimed the local government sent emission samples of the landfill site to a professional test facility and the result showed the landfill would not pollute the surrounding farmland nor endanger villagers' health.
"All the tests proved the disposal project is safe," Huang said. "But now we have to put all the waste in a temporary dump site after the villagers blocked the road."
He failed to show China Daily the test report.
Zhang Changsheng, a 54-year-old farmer in Houlong village, said the landfill has caused a considerable decrease of farm yields.
His 0.8 hectares of farmland for rice is at the foot of the landfill.
Zhang said black sewage flows into his farm and makes the plants sick.
"The waste water killed some plants and made them yield much less than before," he said.
Another villager, Zhang Changyan, 48, gave up harvesting his 0.13 hectares of rice this year.
"The yield was too little to be harvested and the rice was polluted," he said.
He said his family depended on the rice for food, but this year he harvested nearly nothing, in stark contrast with the 250 kg of rice harvested last year and 500 kg in 2008.
The landfill also harms health, according to villagers.
"The garbage dump causes a terrible smell. I can barely breathe when farming near it," said Zhang Shuying, a 60-year-old villager. "Flies were buzzing everywhere."
"Many villagers have moved out. Only the old people and poor families stay," said Zheng Jiabiao, a 45-year-old villager. "The government should relocate all of us."
He said only about 200 people are still in the village, which used to have more than 1,400 villagers.
According to China's regulations, people living within 500 meters of the dump should be relocated and provided with free land and housing compensation.
Huang Chengkai said they have relocated 15 families who lived around the site, and provided them with 60 square meters of free land and more than 350,000 yuan of compensation.
"But for the families living outside the area, like those living 520 meters away from the dump, we don't have to relocate them," Huang said.
He said the local government is providing the rest of the villagers another relocation plan: Each family can pay 58,000 yuan for 60 square meters of land on the edge of the county.
"But some villagers just don't trust the government," said Huang.
"The dump obviously affects the life of villagers in Houlong, and the polluted rice farm is the best evidence," said Zhang Changjian, a Houlong villager and grassroots environmental activist. He insists the government should relocate all the villagers.
In 2002, Zhang together with 1,721 villagers, some of whom were from Houlong village, sued the Rongping chemical plant for its emission of sewage and waste residue containing chlorine and chrome, two major pollutants in China.
Zhang and the villagers got 680,000 yuan in compensation five years later, and now Zhang is protesting the dump project, which is partly used for the waste from the Rongping chemical plant.
"Houlong used to be a beautiful village, and I feel sad to see it surrounded by a chemical plant and a landfill site."