Chemical plant worries greens despite promises

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am

Conservationists in Chongqing continue to have concerns about the environmental impact of a huge chemical plant, approved by Beijing last week, in the Three Gorges region.

The 8 billion yuan (HK$9.48 billion) MDI plant is to be built by German giant BASF in a new chemical park in Changshou, outside Chongqing, and start operations by 2014.

With a projected annual production capacity of 400,000 tonnes of MDI - diphenylmethane diisocyanate, an organic compound used in a wide range of insulating material - the plant will be the largest of its kind.

The National Development and Reform Commission announced approval of the controversial project on Friday, after 'a stringent examination of environmental, health and safety standards, two rounds of local public consultation and several expert reviews', BASF said on its website.

The project's approval process stalled in 2009 after objections from environmental groups and residents.

BASF said the project would be built with a 'focus on safety and environmental protection'.

'We are applying world-class safety and environmental standards in the construction and operation of our facility, and at the same time we will produce products that have a direct impact on increasing energy efficiency and lowering carbon emissions,' Asia-Pacific board member Dr Martin Brudermuller said.

But Chongqing-based environmentalist Wu Dengming said there was still a lot of resistance to the project, with many suspecting BASF would not live up to its environmental promises. 'The local government is welcoming this investment from BASF, but that does not necessarily mean the local people welcome it.'

Although local environmental groups had established a dialogue with BASF, the talks had not succeeded in allaying fears about the plant's environmental impact, he said.

'To date, their efforts are still not sufficient,' he said. 'I feel they still have not done as much as they could do. We need a greater level of transparency from the chemical company about the long-term effects this plant will have on the local environment.'

He said BASF had yet to address specific concerns raised in an open letter sent in protest in 2009.

'We have been given assurances that the environmental impact will be minimised, but we have not been given details about what the actual effect will be on the local environment once the factory has been built,' he said.

A BASF spokesman said the plant has gone through extensive public consultation and would continue discussions with concerned groups and try to address their concerns.

Wu said the environmental groups were not opposed to the project unconditionally. 'If we can be given solid promises that this project will be environmentally sound, then we will be satisfied,' he said. 'If BASF can meet our expectations, then I do not think there will be a problem with the plant being built.'