Ransacked plant apologizes for spill

Updated: 2011-09-21 07:03

(China Daily)

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HAINING, Zhejiang - A solar panel maker targeted by violent protests over pollution from one of its factories in East China has apologized and promised to do whatever it takes to clean it up.

Jinko Solar Holdings, parent company of the plant, said in a statement on Monday that initial tests showed pollutants may have spilled into a nearby river due to "improper storage of waste".

Police detained 31 people after hundreds of villagers protested last week in Haining, Zhejiang province. Some stormed the factory compound and overturned vehicles.

Authorities said the plant had failed to address earlier environmental complaints and that the protests followed a large number of fish deaths in late August due to runoff from heavy rains.

Jinko Solar, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, said production in Haining has been suspended, but will likely resume within a few days.

"The company will take all necessary steps to ensure that it is in compliance with all environmental rules and regulations. Any deficiencies in environmental protection uncovered will be immediately remedied," it said in a statement, Associated Press reported.

As well as 31 protesters being detained, authorities say another 100 will be given "legal re-education", which usually involves giving minor offenders classes about China's legal system.

The people detained severely disrupted social order, said Shen Xianghong, spokesman for Haining government.

Residents close to the Jinko Solar plant, meanwhile, say they voiced concerns about pollution half a year ago, to no avail.

An elderly man who has lived in the area his whole life said the air smelled bad and locals had no idea whether it was harmful to their health.

The incident came just over a month after authorities in Dalian, Liaoning province, agreed to relocate a chemical plant after similar protests, underscoring official concern over mounting public anger about pollution.

"Citizens, particularly a rising middle class, have become more aware about how deep the impact of environmental issues is to their health," said Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. "They are no longer willing to take it passively."

Protests against pollution are not new to China, as breakneck economic growth over the past three decades has caused severe degradation of air, land and water quality.

The growth of social networking, in particular micro blogs like Sina Weibo, has helped spread the word about environmental issues and mobilize protests against perceived polluters.

Zhang Zhi'an, a communications professor at Zhongshan University in Guangdong province, said micro blogs helped give a voice to people with grievances. "They play an important role in gathering public opinion, which has helped vulnerable groups," he said.

China has the world's largest online population with almost 500 million users.

A blogger living near the site of a deadly high-speed train crash in Zhejiang in July is widely believed to have broken news of the accident.

AFP - China Daily

(China Daily 09/21/2011 page4)