Hundreds clash with police in bid to halt spread of chemical

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2010, 12:00am

Hundreds of villagers clashed with police in Zhentou, Hunan province, in an attempt to stop local authorities covering fields with a pollution-reducing chemical, which villagers fear will prevent them from claiming compensation.

The protest was the sixth in the past five months over metal poisoning caused by a factory that has led to the deaths of at least seven people and left hundreds sick. Five villagers were detained.

On the morning of December 31, dozens of trucks carrying calcium oxide arrived under police escort, a resident from hardest-hit Shuangqiao village said yesterday.

'The township government officials said the calcium oxide was to rid the farmland of toxicity and help the area move on from the pollution case,' the villager said. 'Actually, they just want to cover it over and remove all traces of our suffering. They wanted to dump the chemical in the fields [around the factory]. Villagers gathered and started protesting. We are angry, so we threw bricks and stones at them.'

The trucks were forced to leave in the afternoon, but police returned and detained five people.

'The police threatened to send activists to jail. One of those detained was forced to name several troublemakers. I am one of them. I'm worried I will be arrested soon,' the villager said.

Zhentou attracted nationwide attention five months ago when thousands of villagers protested after a spate of cases of cadmium and indium poisoning. Dozens have been detained in ongoing disturbances.

The factory was shut down, but villagers have prevented local authorities from removing it and reclaiming polluted farmland.

They fear that once all traces of pollution have been removed, their chances of receiving compensation will be severely reduced. Environmental experts said the soil around the factory would not be suitable for growing crops for 60 years.

In August, authorities offered a one-off payment of 500 yuan (HK$567) to those poisoned by one of the metals, and 1,000 yuan if traces of both were found. Since then, free medical treatment has ceased, with no more compensation offered.