Residents of Nansha's Honghu village could not get too excited about the relocation of a mega- refinery project from their soil. The tiny river in the Guangzhou village is constantly murky, and sometimes it even runs black. The water probably stinks - but any smell is overwhelmed by the suffocating paint fumes from the container construction plant on the other bank. Honghu was slated to be the site of the US$9 billion petrochemical complex, a joint venture between mainland oil giant Sinopec and Kuwait Petroleum. The vast complex, which caused fears of increased air pollution in cities across the Pearl River Delta, has been relocated to Zhanjiang in the southwest of Guangdong province. But in Honghu, where villagers used to fish and grow sugarcane and bananas, there are fears the damage has already been done. Pointing at the murky water, a 50-year-old villager who gave the name Gui described it as 'a good day'. 'Whenever the container factory dumps sewage into the river, it goes totally black. This happens a few times a week.' In the middle of the day, the smell of the paint from the container factory is nauseating, but according to the villager, this is when it is at its most bearable. 'It gets much worse than this, particularly at night,' said Gui, who explained more work was done at night to avoid attracting local government inspectors. Gui said a string of elderly villagers had been made sick. 'No matter what comes to our village - it shouldn't be allowed to damage our health and lives.' The environmental damage in places on the front line, like Honghu, may be irreversible, experts say. But the relocation of the refinery spares Nansha from greater damage and the delta from more air pollution. Chen Junhong, head of Guangzhou Institute of Geography's natural resources and environment research centre, offered a gloomy assessment of the situation in Nansha. He said Nansha's ambient air quality was worsening. In 2003 it met Class II standards, meaning it was fit for residential areas. But from last year it no longer did. Mr Chen said the development of heavy industries in the area around Honghu village had played havoc with the environment. 'Guangdong's senior leadership might want to reduce the pollution, but local governments still lack stringent monitoring. Regardless, Nansha is a precious piece of land for Guangzhou - it should never have been used for industrial development.' Chen Guizhu, a professor of environmental science and engineering at Sun Yat-sen University, said the environment of Nansha could be protected as long as the government continued to highlight its importance. Professor Chen, a wetlands expert, said the relocation of the petrochemical complex reduced the burden on the environment, and 'Nansha's delicate wetlands could benefit from the move'.