Spill Underlines Environmental Concerns

CDT previously reported on the aniline spill in Changzhi that affected the water supply of a handful of cities. The New York Times reports this spill has drawn attention to the growing water problem in northern China:

“Problems with water weren’t so serious before, but they have become much worse with industrial consumption,” said Yin Qingli, a lawyer in Handan who filed a lawsuit in January against Tianji, which uses water to convert coal to fertilizer at the factory in Changzhi.

Greenpeace said Tianji is “notorious for its pollution.” In 2010 and 2011, Tianji had been judged by Shanxi’s environmental protection bureau to be polluting above normal levels in four quarters and was fined each time. Tianji’s pollution was abnormally high throughout most of 2011, so provincial officials asked the Changzhi environmental protection bureau to monitor the factory, Greenpeace reported.

On Jan. 9, the Handan Winter Swimming Association announced that it had filed a lawsuit in a Handan court against Tianji, seeking more than $3 million in compensation. But like the lawsuit of Mr. Yin’s, it has gone nowhere. Mr. Yin said he had been asked by local officials to withdraw his lawsuit. The Handan officials had entered into secret negotiations with their Changzhi counterparts for compensation.

Recently, official Chinese news organizations have run articles or editorials on water pollution, in part spurred by the recent spill. People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, published a commentary on Feb. 21 by Yan Houfu, who specializes in environmental law, saying that fines against polluting companies have little impact because the amounts typically range from $8,000 to $80,000. And “the Ministry of Environmental Protection, intentionally or otherwise, has not been strict in enforcing the law,” he wrote.

As Weibo users call on officials to swim in the polluted rivers, one environmentalist, Chen Yuqian, was beaten after asking local officials to brave the waters they were supposed to keep clean, from The Telegraph:

Mr Chen, a farmer who has spent the last decade fighting pollution, posted his challenge on the internet, hoping it would trigger government action.

Instead, his daughter says he was severely beaten by a gang of baton-wielding men at around 6am last Sunday.

“My father was alone at home,” said 32-year-old Chen Xiufang. “Some 40 people turned up in plain clothes, some holding batons. The only thing they said was: “[You] used the internet, you always use the internet!”

The claims come amid reports that China’s environmental protection agency is refusing to publish the findings of a nationwide survey of soil pollution claiming the data constitutes a “state secret”. It has been estimated that up to 10 per cent of Chinese farmland is contaminated with toxins such as arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium.

Read more about water pollution in China, via CDT.

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