Ningbo activists seek big weekend protest over Sinopec plant expansion

Ningbo residents call for big demonstration at weekend over Sinopec plant expansion plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 4:12am


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Hundreds of people in the city of Ningbo demonstrated for a third consecutive day yesterday over plans to expand a controversial petrochemical plant.

The government said the work would continue despite calls for a larger protest during the weekend.

After a string of small-scale protests over the past two weeks in the Zhenhai district of the city, residents have called for a bigger gathering at Tianyi Square in central Ningbo, in Zhejiang province, at the weekend.

Many suspect the authorities are trying to hide critical information about the pollution that will result from a 55.9 billion yuan (HK$68.7 billion) expansion of the oil refinery, China's biggest, and associated chemical plant operated by Sinopec.

The Zhenhai district government showed no sign of backing down. Xinhua quoted the district government as saying yesterday that the expansion, which will increase annual oil refining capacity by 15 million tonnes and ethylene production capacity by 1.2 million tonnes a year, met the requirements of an environmental assessment.

"Detailed information will be published when environmental reviews are implemented and public opinions on the project will be heeded," the statement said.

The government's pledges did nothing to ease residents' concerns.

Of particularly concern is the production of paraxylene, known as PX, which is widely used in paints and plastics. If inhaled in large quantities, the toxic chemical can damage the central nervous system, liver and kidneys, and chronic exposure may result in death.

The plant already produces 500,000 tonnes of PX a year.

The Xinhua report said online postings had "demonised" PX, and claimed it was groundless to say PX would cause cancer.

An IT engineer in Zhenhai, who requested anonymity after receiving warnings from the local authority, said: "The toxic PX is the biggest concern for Zhenhai people."

About 200 villagers petitioned the Zhenhai district government on Monday, requesting that the plant be relocated, as they live near the site of the project. Some of the villagers were "very emotional" and blocked a major road near the government compound, according to the statement.

One resident said the villagers began to petition about two weeks ago, and were then joined by more young people, who have long been frustrated by the severe pollution caused by the numerous petrochemical plants in Zhenhai.

"Zhenhai was transformed into a petrochemical base in 1970s, but over the past several years there are more chemical plants moving in, which led to an increase in cancer and birth defects," the resident, surnamed Ren, said, adding that his mother has died of cancer.

The mayor of Ningbo, Liu Qi , who worked in the petrochemical industry, told a meeting in August that the local government should "go all out to clear any obstacles to kick off the expansion project as soon as possible" to build Ningbo into a world-level petrochemical base, according to local media reports.

Ren said his friends working in government agencies and banks in Zhenhai have received warnings to keep silent.