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A Toxics-Free Future


Police, Villagers Clash in Eastern China Over Waste Incinerator

Mao Da, from IPEN Participating Organization Nature University, is quoted in this article from the Wall Street Journal.

By James T. Areddy

SHANGHAI--Violent clashes between police and villagers left dozens injured during demonstrations in eastern China against construction of a waste incinerator, the latest example of public readiness to fight government plans viewed as polluting.

Several people were bloodied and arrested on the outskirts of Hangzhou over the weekend in protests that featured dozens of overturned and burned cars, according to official media and unofficial reports circulating on social media and press accounts that included numerous photos and videos. The government's news agency, Xinhua, said 10 residents and 29 police were hurt in the melee; some reports said the clashes caused deaths. Government officials weren't available to comment.

Tension had been building for around a month over plans for the plant that residents of rural, mountainous Yuhang district north of Hangzhou said threatens to pollute the area. Hand-to-hand fighting erupted Saturday between protesters who blocked the highway in Yuhang and police armed with sticks and shields, the reports said.

The local government said Sunday that the so-far unbuilt plant won't go ahead without public support. An at least temporary work stoppage is an increasingly common response by authorities to not-in-my-backyard demonstrations. Authorities in Hangzhou nevertheless continued to defend the integrity of the plan to build the plant, which could dispose of about 36% of the city's daily trash output, or some 3,000 metric tons, according to official statements.

China's public is concerned such facilities will leave a damaging environmental footprint and that plans are sprung on them without consultation, said Mao Da, a researcher who specializes in China's waste issues for the Beijing-based nongovernmental organization Nature University. He said the proposed Hangzhou plant, for instance, is yet to have undergone an environmental-impact study.

"If the public can discuss related issues with authorities, I think they will be less likely to respond violently to address their concerns," said Mr. Ma.

To skirt the government's aversion to protests, urban Chinese citizens first appeared to gain traction in fighting unpopular industrial development plans about seven years ago with peaceful "strolls" in which people showed up at designated places without shouting slogans or marching.

Violence increasingly features in such events, including a month ago in southern Guangdong province over a plant to make paraxylene, a chemical used to make polyester and plastics, and last year north of Shanghai over a wastewater discharge system for a paper plant. Plans for nuclear facilities, metals processing and rail lines prompted similar responses.

China is introducing more incineration to augment trash-burial programs but analysts say public awareness of risks with the facilities are also growing. Last December, an explosion in a Shanghai waste-to-energy plant killed at least three workers a few days after national broadcaster China Central Television drew attention to leakage of pollutants from similar plants in Wuhan.

Dangerous emissions from the Hangzhou plant "will be controlled by advanced technology," according to Weng Shilong, senior engineer of Hangzhou Environmental Protection Science Institute, whose comments were posted on a government website.

Pollution scares continue in China, and are a source of deep public opposition to plants like the waste plant.

Last Friday, the Jiangsu province city of Jingjiang became the latest to suffer a water-quality scare after pollutants detected in the Yangtze River that is the source for drinking water prompted authorities to abruptly shut down the tap supply system. Initially described Friday by the government there as a half-day outage, water was only restored Sunday. Authorities in the midsize city halfway between Shanghai and Nanjing said little about the source of their concern aside from denying as unsubstantiated rumors that a vessel carrying chemicals had overturned on the river.

Downriver in Shanghai, officials said the local water supply wasn't threatened.

In his first policy address as China's premier, Li Keqiang in March pledged that the government has a new attitude about the environment. "We will declare war against pollution and fight it with the same determination we battled poverty," he said.

The Hangzhou incinerator is to be located 20 miles northeast of the city's touristy, West Lake that is said to have reminded Marco Polo of Venice. One of China's wealthier cities, with some of the nation's highest property prices, Hangzhou is also home to Internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. but is ringed with industrial plants.

In the clashes over the weekend, according to the numerous official accounts online, police cars and vans were overturned, and at least three were torched during the clashes that lasted until well after dark.

A video distributed by the local government and published online shows residents punching officers and bashing police vehicles. It also includes close-up shots of 15 suspected protest instigators that it said police are asking the public to help identify. Xinhua said more than 700 officers are now enforcing order there.

It is unclear how significantly such activism alters government plans, such as the temporary delay announced for the Hangzhou plant.

A plant that was the focus of mid-2007 peaceful strolls by citizens in the southeast province Fujian opposed to local production of the paraxylene, or PX, was long delayed but eventually built in a different location in the province. The government said last year that part of the plant, Tenglong Aromatic PX (Zhangzhou) Ltd., exploded after a burst pipeline.

Lilian Lin in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to James T. Areddy at