Poison back with rain, say villagers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 June, 2010, 12:00am

Villagers in Zhentou, Hunan , are concerned that heavy metal pollution is revisiting their home town, washed from an abandoned chemical factory by the heavy rain sweeping the south.

At least 10 villagers died of cadmium and indium poisoning from the chemical factory when it was operating, prompting thousands of residents to take to the streets in protest at least eight times since last August. That forced the local authorities to shut it down.

People thought that their pollution woes were over, but in the past two weeks they fear that toxic waste from the idle plant has found its way once more into the Liuyang River and underground supplies.

Villagers said the town's government issued a statement in April saying the factory's assets had been sold to a buyer in Zhuzhou . The buyer soon sent a team to the Xianghe factory to disassemble the equipment and remove most of the useful chemicals. They left behind tonnes of toxic scrap and liquid waste, despite protests from the villagers.

'I once worked for the factory. I know the scrap is full of zinc, arsenic and cadmium,' Li Songlin , a Shuangqiao villager said. 'The government told us all the money from the sale of the factory would be used to reduce cadmium pollution, but some officials only came and covered the scrap with some calcium oxide that they said could rid it of its toxicity. But we can't believe it.

'On sunny days, we can't see the problem. But now the toxic materials are being mixed with rainwater. But no officials have come to deal with the problem. The toxic water is going into the river and underground.'

On Wednesday, around 200 villagers, for at least the fourth time, tried to travel to Changsha, the provincial capital, to deliver a petition. They set off around 3am but were stopped by police. Only 50 reached the provincial petition office in Changsha.

They reported their concerns and repeated their demand for health treatment, compensation and proper disposal of the toxic scrap. 'The provincial department promised us it would clamp down on the municipal authorities and reply to us in two weeks,' Li said.