Hunan villagers, hit by deadly seepage, vow to protest again

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 August, 2009, 12:00am

Farmers in a township in Liuyang, Hunan province, where at least five people have died from pollution-related illness, vowed to stage another protest, next Tuesday, if officials still ignored their plight.

Over 1,000 villagers laid siege to the Zhentou township government office and a local police station on Thursday after six were detained for demonstrating against cadmium and indium pollution from the nearby Xianghe Chemical plant.

Last month the local government started paying daily compensation of 12 yuan (HK$13.60) to villagers living within 500 metres of the plant, and 8 yuan to those living 500 to 12,000 metres away, but payments will end on Tuesday. Villagers said yesterday they would besiege the local government office again on Tuesday if the government failed to provide a solution to the deadly pollution, which has killed at least five residents from two villages and poisoned hundreds of others. 'If the government refuses to compensate us for our crops, land and to take care of our health,' a villager in Shuangqiao, where four have died, said, 'we will definitely stage a larger siege on August 4.'

Officials said more than 500 people had suffered from cadmium and indium poisoning - which can kill by causing digestive system failure and other health problems.

'Only 3,000 of the 12,000 people in our township have received health checks,' a local villager said. 'So far only 60 of them have been approved for free medical treatment. Others only got medicine.'

Zhang Shu'e , 46, a Shuangqiao villager, said her sister-in-law died of cadmium poisoning in May, while she herself, her husband and her brother-in-law all suffer from the poisoning. 'I am very scared, because my throat hurts so much. My other symptoms are very similar to my sister-in-law's when she was still alive,' she said. 'At least one villager in our village has died of poisoning every month since May.'

Ms Zhang and her family live just 300 metres from the Xianghe factory, which has been producing cadmium - used in liquid crystal displays - and other chemicals since 2004. Villages have complained since last year, when they noticed a bad odour coming from the well that is their only source of drinking water.

Xinhua said the Xianghe factory had discharged all its waste water directly into the soil and sewage system without any treatment for the past six years, until it was ordered to halt production in March this year.

Villagers living more than 1.2 kilometres away - the limit of the affected area designated by local officials - said their health was also at risk. 'We share the same Liuyang River, which is contaminated by Xianghe factory, for irrigation. Nobody dares to buy the vegetables and crops we grow now,' a Gankou villager said.

Wang Canfa , an environmental expert at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said that the blind pursuit of economic growth was to blame. 'Pollution in Liuyang is just the tip of the iceberg in our country, as officials from impoverished areas rely on polluting industry to boost local gross domestic product,' he said.