Villagers endure foul-smelling factory despite promises

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2007, 12:00am

Jingkou villager Zhang Chaozhen knows her fight against a toxic polluter on the Jialing River is probably a lost cause.

She and her fellow villagers are more than a little cynical at the news that the waste-spewing Dongfeng Chemical Plant will be relocated by the end of this year.

The folks of Chongqing's Shapingba district have heard it all before. The 60-year-old farmer says she has heard countless promises from the government that the decades-old producer of toxic chrome salts would be shut down. 'We were told last year that it would definitely be closed in 2007,' she says, looking at plumes of black and yellowish smoke pouring from factory chimney stacks.

The factory, which belongs to the Chongqing Pesticide and Chemical Group, has been discharging its foul-smelling poisons day and night for the past 40 years, claim Mrs Zhang and her fellow villagers of the riverside town.

The river, a main tributary of the Yangtze and the Three Gorges reservoir, looks dirty and gives off a nasty smell.

'No one dares to open their door when it emits a peculiar suffocating odour, and it smells so terrible that I can't breathe or open my eyes,' she says referring to hydrogen sulfide produced by the factory.

'Our farmland has been poisoned and no one dares to buy our vegetables because of the brown spots on the leaves,' said Tang Yinghui, another Jingkou villager.

Unlike many other polluting factories near densely populated urban areas on the mainland that discharge pollutants secretly, the chemical plant just a few kilometres upstream of the city centre makes no efforts to hide its sins. Villagers and enterprises in Jingkou town, including the Chongqing Geological Instrument Factory, have been protesting against the pollution for years, and the government has promised to help.

'But nothing has happened so far and the government-controlled media said the removal of the factory would take place by mid-next year. How can we believe that?' asked Mrs Zhang.

Although the factory has long been blacklisted by local environmental office as one of the worst polluters in Chongqing, its parent company is the country's largest producer of chrome salts and one of the city's top 20 industrial enterprises.

While the Chongqing Pesticide and Chemical Group regularly pays fines for its polluting, between 2000 and 2003 it only shelled out 810,000 yuan. But in 2005, the company earned 450 million yuan and contributed 6.8 million yuan in tax revenue to the local economy.

The enterprise earned nationwide notoriety in 2003 when it was named and shamed by the country's top green watchdog for having discharged cancer-causing waste into the river.

The State Environmental Protection Administration warned the illegal discharge and the poorly treated chrome waste would have a disastrous impact on the local environment and the water safety of the Three Gorges reservoir.

But another central government inspection last year concluded the chemical enterprise had made little, if any, progress in tackling its toxic waste. And the factory is only one of several dozen large-scale polluters in Chongqing.

'Officials love to talk about environmental protection,' said a local scholar. 'But they would rather say poverty is a much worse woe than pollution when they are asked to shut down industrial polluters.'