Protests show rising green concerns
Mass protests this week over the planned construction of a molybdenum-copper alloy plant in Shifang , Sichuan province show that environmental concerns are becoming a leading cause of social unrest.
Authorities yesterday said they would scrap the 10.4 billion yuan (HK$12.7 billion) project, the subject of demonstrations by tens of thousands of Shifang residents.
The residents' deep-seated concerns about pollution and health risks have highlighted their growing distrust of local government and national environmental authorities, as the project had secured the approval of the Ministry of Environmental Protection in March.
Greenpeace campaigner Ma Tianjie said a toxic arsenic compound contained in the plant's solid waste posed a major health risk. In extreme cases, arsenic poisoning can lead to death or cause cancer.
Molybdenum, though not carcinogenic, can cause liver and kidney damage, and can also hamper bone development in children, while copper is extremely toxic to aquatic animals but less dangerous to people.
'The public's concerns were not unfounded, given the poor environmental record of the metal-smelting industry,' Ma said.
'Once the damage is done, it is long-lasting and not remediable.'
The massive three-day protest this week was the latest in a series of grass-roots demonstrations over polluting projects, as mainlanders have gained awareness in recent years of environmental and health concerns associated with pollution.
Last summer, tens of thousands of people in the northeastern city of Dalian , Liaoning , marched to demand the relocation of a chemical plant.
And in June 2007, over 20,000 people rallied in Xiamen , a coastal city in Fujian province, to protest against plans to built a paraxylene chemical plant in the city. The project was subsequently relocated.
Following the Xiamen incident, the 'not in my backyard' mentality sparked similar protests in several mainland cities, including Dalian, Guangzhou and Shantou . Analysts say the mainland public has taken to such protests because they lack adequate channels to express their concerns about environmental risks posed by massive industrial projects.
Such concerns are often the result of poor transparency in environmental decision-making.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, said the Shifang protests came as a last resort for local residents to make their voices heard, as 'all other channels for public participation were ineffective'.
Li Yanfang, an environmental law professor, says the nation's environmental laws still have loopholes in terms of public consultation. As a result, environmental reviews sometimes fail to reflect the public's true opinion about certain industrial projects.