City may move chemical plant over spill fear

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am


The authorities in Dalian are mulling the relocation of a controversial petrochemical plant at the centre of a toxic spill scare, after angry residents threatened to take to the streets over mounting safety and environmental fears, state media reported.

In an apparent concession to public outrage prompted by the narrowly avoided spill on Monday, the city government decided to reassess the safety of the Fujia petrochemical plant and consider moving it, Xinhua said yesterday.

Nearly 6 million Dalian residents woke on Monday to find their lives had been put at risk when Tropical Storm Muifa breached a protective dyke, raising the possibility that extremely toxic chemicals, notably paraxylene, or PX, could have been released from the plant.

Although authorities repaired the dyke and insisted that no spills were detected, the incident sparked panic and fuelled resentment against the PX project, operational since 2009, with calls for protests emerging on social networking site Sina Weibo.

Xinhua said the relocation of the plant became an option after top leaders in Dalian 'carefully reviewed the plant's safety problems and took notice of public appeals'.

Citing the Dalian government, China News Service also reported that a possible relocation plan was likely to be drafted.

The unusual outpouring of public anger has been attributed to the fact locals were largely kept in the dark when work on the 9.5 billion yuan (HK$11.5 billion) project, producing 700,000 tonnes of paraxylene a year, started about 20 kilometres from the city centre in 2005.

Mainland analysts said the city government's move was a step in the right direction, considering the threat to the booming port city.

The PX plant would make history if it became the first large, operational petrochemical project to be relocated on the mainland.

But given the scale of the PX plant and growing environmental awareness, analysts said it could take a long time to find another site.

'It will be a real test for the Dalian authorities in the face of tough choices between economic growth and the public's well-being,' Beijing-based environmentalist Ma Jun said.

However, he added that the relocation was unlikely to eliminate huge environmental risks posed by dozens of other large petrochemical plants in the same industrial zone in the city's eastern suburbs.

Analysts noted that the Dalian government could face tough questions about who should pay for the relocation and who should be held responsible for building the PX project in the first place.

Professor Zhu Lijia, of the Chinese Academy of Governance, said it remained to be seen if Dalian authorities were serious about relocating the PX plant.

'The government must include relocating the petrochemical plant in its future development plans,' he said. 'The credibility of the government is at stake.'

47b yuan

The value of the petrochemicals sector in Dalian in 2010, according to the city government, equal to HK$56.9 billion