Protest prompts shutdown of factory

Updated: 2011-08-15 07:59

(China Daily)

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Thousands of people rally to call for relocation of toxic 'time bomb'

DALIAN, Liaoning - Government officials ordered a chemical plant to shut down and leave Dalian city after thousands of residents, worried about toxic leaks, took to the streets on Sunday demanding its relocation.

The largely peaceful protest was triggered by mounting safety fears at Fujia Chemical Plant.

The plant produces paraxylene (PX), a flammable, carcinogenic liquid used in polyester films and fabrics.

Residents living near the plant on Monday had to be evacuated after waves, whipped up by a tropical storm, breached sea defenses protecting the factory, sparking fears that a toxic spill could take place.

The breached defenses were repaired and no chemical leaks had been reported, but demands by members of the public to relocate the factory gathered steam. Calls for street protests circulated rapidly on the Internet before Sunday's protest.

The protest started with a small crowd sitting in front of government office buildings at about 10 am and quickly grew from there. They chanted "Fujia, get out!" and "serve the people".

They sang the national anthem and displayed banners printed with the phrases "we want to survive" and "we want a good environment".

There were reports of scuffles with police, but no injuries. At one point, protesters threw bottles of mineral water at police who tried to cordon off a section of a major road. They relented after police backed down.

Dalian's Party chief Tang Jun and Mayor Li Wancai tried to appease the crowd by promising to move the plant, but did not give a clear timetable as the protesters had demanded.

The protest resembled a similar move by residents of the southeastern city of Xiamen in Fujian province in 2007. They called for the relocation of a Taiwanese-funded PX plant, and the plant was eventually moved out of the city.

Dalian is a coastal city known for its sandy beaches and clean air. "It is a 'garden city'. The plant, located only 20 km away from the city center, is like a time bomb," said a protester, surnamed Wang, who did not want to give his full name.

"If it is not moved now, Dalian will be destroyed."

Another resident surnamed Li, again requesting that the full name not be used, blamed the local government for approving the construction of new industrial facilities without considering their potential environmental impact.

The city government held an emergency meeting on Aug 9 to discuss relocation plans. Top officials ordered a thorough assessment of the plant's safety with a report backed by "scientific and responsible" explanations. The chemical plant was approved by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in 2005. It is a joint venture between the State-owned Dalian Chemical Group and the private Fujia Group, a local real estate giant.

The plant, one of China's largest PX producers, went into operation in 2009 and is capable of producing 700,000 tons of the compound annually, according to the company website. The plant contributes 2 billion yuan ($311 million) to the local government in taxes every year.

A report from the NDRC showed that the country built six PX plants between 2006 and 2010, bringing the total number of plants to 14. The plants are located in regions across China, including Fujian, Liaoning and Henan provinces and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Internet users in Dalian complained on micro blogs that facilities like the PX project would be best located 100 km away from any city.

"There was already controversy when the (Fujia) project was approved and started operation," an Internet user said. "But many people simply did not know such a project was being constructed in their neighborhood.

"The truth was withheld from the public. We didn't know about how toxic it could be. Now, the relocation cannot wait any more," he said.

Dalian's petrochemical industry has a far from spotless safety record.

An oil pipeline exploded near a Dalian storage port in July last year. It took firefighters 15 hours to extinguish the blaze and caused a marine oil spill that polluted 50 square km and damaged beaches.

Xinhua

(China Daily 08/15/2011 page1)