Dumping of untreated acid in Chinese canal highlights nation’s water pollution woes

Chemical plant fined 20 million yuan for environmental damage ‘beyond measure’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 2:28am

A Jiangsu chemical plant has been fined 20 million yuan (US$2.88 million) for dumping almost 2,700 tonnes of liquid acid waste into the Grand Canal, causing environmental damage “beyond measure”, according to a local court verdict that was published recently.

The verdict provides a rare detailed look at how waters in China have become some of the most polluted and poisoned in the world in recent decades. A report by Nature Conservancy published in April 2016 concluded that about three-quarters of the water sources tapped by China’s 30 biggest cities experience major pollution, threatening the health of tens of millions of people.

According to the criminal verdict handed down by the Jiangsu Yangzhou Intermediate People’s Court, a dyeing plant in Nanjing owned by German firm DyStar had always dealt with its liquid acid waste in line with legal regulations while under German management, with treatment of the waste costing about 3,000 yuan per tonne.

In 2010, Kiri Holdings Singapore and its joint venture partner the Shanghai-listed Longsheng Group acquired DyStar along with its subsidiaries, and management of the Nanjing plant was taken over by Longsheng.

The group, which has been grabbing market share with its low-cost products and services, considered the method of neutralising the acid used by the German management too expensive and tried to find a cheap way to dump the waste.

Wang Jun, an executive in the plant, outsourced the business the same year to a merchant named Wang Zhanrong, who promised he would handle the acid for 580 yuan per tonne. The deal was greased with a gift of a deposit card with 40,000 yuan balance from the contractor to the executive.

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Huang Jinjun, the plant manager in charge of the acid, agreed that Wang Zhanrong would handle the acid disposal even though he knew beforehand that although Wang owned trucks, he had no license to deal with acid disposal. In return, Wang gave Huang a “kickback” of up to 50 yuan per tonne.

Wang, having won the deal, “outsourced” the disposal in 2013 to merchant Ding Weidong, who owned several boats, paying him 150 yuan per tonne. Wang trucked acid from the plant to Ding’s boats, and Ding then moved the boats to open water at night and pumped the acid directly into the Grand Canal, the court found.

Ding kept doing so until the night of May 19, 2014, when the local environmental regulators tightened inspections and spotted what he was doing. The regulators were on high alert at the time as a major environmental scandal had been exposed on May 15, when six chemical plants in Taizhou, Jiangsu province, were found dumping more than 25,000 tonnes of acid into open water.

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The six plants were found guilty in August of that year and ordered by the court to pay a total of 160 million yuan for rehabilitation of the environment, a record penalty in the history of China’s environmental public interest lawsuits.

The recent verdict said DyStar’s acid waste discharge into rivers had polluted the water quality in neighbouring districts and forced several water plants to suspend production, and led to long-term damage of aquatic ecosystems.

Separately, Longsheng Group said in a recent public filing to the Shanghai Stock Exchange that DyStar’s Nanjing factory is facing an ongoing environmental public interest lawsuit from Jiangsu Province Environment Federation, pursuing more than 24 million on the environmental recovery.