Controversy over planned paraxylene (PX) plant in Xiamen, Fujian, China

Opposition by scientists and journalists led to a street protest on 1 June, 2007 that was attended by 8000-10,000 local residents. This was one of the first large scale protests against PX plants.


Description
The first PX incident began in the wake of plans by the Xianglu Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd. to construct a PX plant in the Haicang District of Xiamen, Fujian. The PX project in Haicang was approved by the State Council in February 2004, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) passed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report in 2005, and the State Department and Reform Committee approved the application in July 2006 (Zhu 2007). However, citizen environmentalists were hard at work to investigate the issue and to gather necessary media, academic and governmental support to oppose the plant’s construction owing to health and environmental concerns. Zhao Yufen, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and member of the China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) played a key role ensuring that the central authorities in Beijing took notice of the PX issue by enlisting “105 top scientists and veteran officials to sign her submission [to the CPCC]: “A Proposal Recommending the Relocation of The Xiamen Haicang PX Project” (Ansfield 2013). In the proposal, Zhao and her co-authors boldly “questioned the process by which the PX project [had] passed its original environmental impact assessment in 2005 and criticized the fact that [the report] had not been released to the public” (ibid). After Zhao’s proposal was adopted as a “top recommendation” by the CPPCC in March 2007, “the influential China Youth Daily and the China Business Journal interviewed Zhao and brought her proposal national attention online” (Ansfield 2013). Local media coverage of the controversy eventually attracted journalists from other parts of the country to visit Haicang. Escalating public concerns over the PX project were rapidly disseminated through cell phone text messaging and other forms of social media such as blogs and bulletin board systems (BBS), which culminated in a street protest on 1 June, 2007 that was attended by 8000-10,000 local residents (ibid). The subsequent mass public "stroll" (an Internet code word for peaceful protests in China) amongst the residents of Xiamen did not lead to an immediate crackdown on the PX protest, though the Xiamen Public Security Bureau "did try to block the cell phone campaign and the city hall did send out warnings against the public demonstration..." (Yu & Zeng 2010). A few days later, Pan Yue, then Deputy Director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), "called for an independent environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the plant as well as of Xiamen's urban development plans (ibid). Pan also suggested that the relevant parties should comply with recently announced regulations on environmental impact assessments that require a public consultation process and the release of relevant information to the public (Civic China, 28 January 2008). Six months later, on 5 December 2007, a 14-page review report of the strategic EIA conducted by the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences was published on Xiamen Net, the local government's official website (Yu & Zeng 2010). The report "criticized the Xianglu Group's repeated emissions breaches and their disregard of requests since 2003 from the local environmental protection bureau to tackle [existing] problems. [...] The report pointed out serious flaws in a development scheme for Haicang that was pursuing the conflicting goals of industrialization and urbanization in such a small region (ibid). On 13 December 2007, "a hearing was held to [allow] the public to voice their opinions on the PX plant. One hundred representatives were selected (50 from the municipal People's Congress and Political Consultative Committee and 50 from the general public). 57 spoke at the hearing. 45 of the 49 public representatives opposed the project and 7 of the 8 government officials who did speak also opposed the project" (Martinsen 2007). In face of strong public opposition, the project was eventually relocated to the city of Zhangzhou, Fujian (Yu & Zeng 2010).
Basic Data
NameControversy over planned paraxylene (PX) plant in Xiamen, Fujian, China
CountryChina
ProvinceFujian
SiteHaicang
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Urban development conflicts
Chemical industries
Specific CommoditiesParaxylene
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsParaxylene (PX) is a chemical essential to the process of manufacturing plastic bottles and polyester clothing which is dangerous if inhaled or if absorbed through skin. China is the world’s largest PX producer and consumer as of 2010. Safety concerns over PX factories have prompted environmental protests in China. This case was one of the first ones, influential on other protests.
Level of Investment (in USD)1,400,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population100,000 (population of Haicang, Xiamen)
Start Date16/03/2007
End Date02/06/2007
Company Names or State EnterprisesHaicang Land Development Corporation from China - It began land requisition for the Xiamen PX project in August 2006.
Xianglu Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd. (Tenglong Group ) from China - The Xiamen PX project was planned by the Tenglong Group.
Relevant government actorsThe State Council, the State Land Resources Department, the State Development and Reform Committee, The State Environmental Protection Administration (Deputy Director, Pan Yue), the Executive Vice-Mayor of Xianmen City, Ding Guoyan
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters-Xiamen Greencross Association, http://xmls.xingongyi.org/

-Zhao Yufen, School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Xiamen University and member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)

-Zhong Xiaoyong, commentator for newspapers and magazines
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Local scientists/professionals
Netizens
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of alternative proposals
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
OtherThe Xiamen PX plant which was relocated to Zhangzhou, Fujianm in January 2009 as a result of the Haicang protests exploded after hydrogen leaked from a pipeline's welding seam during a pressure test at the plant. A Xingzai village resident, who lives less than 1 kilometre from the plant, said the concussive force of the explosion shattered windows and cracked walls and ceilings in her newly built home. (Li Jing, South China Morning Post, 30 July 2013)
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Other"The main effect of inhaling xylene vapor is depression of the central nervous system, with symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, which can occur with exposure up to air levels of about 100 ppm. [...] Long term exposure can lead to depression, insomnia, agitation, extreme tiredness, tremors, impaired concentration and short-term memory. [...] At very high levels of exposure, xylene can injure the liver and kidneys, with the damage being irreversible. [...] Xylene inhaled by a woman can reach a developing fetus and can contaminate her breast milk" (Kandyala et al. 2010).
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseApplication of existing regulations
Relocation of PX plant from Xiamen to Zhangzhou in 2008 (operation was temporarily halted but has since resumed)
Development of AlternativesRelocation of plant to Zhangzhou, Fujian. This relocation was also conflictive.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The Xiamen PX protest appears to be a classic case of NIMBYISM. Local residents in Haicang were able to stage a successful mass protest to halt the PX plant's construction efforts, yet these efforts have simply resulted in the plant being relocated to Zhangzhou, Fujian, where local residents remain vulnerable to environmental and health risks posed by the plant's continual operation, as evidenced by the explosion that occurred at the plant on 29 July 2013 (Li Jing, South China Morning Post, 30 July 2013).
Sources and Materials
References

[5] Ansfield, J. (2013). Alchemy of a protest: The case of Xiamen PX. In S. Geall (Ed.), China and the Environment: The green revolution (pp.136-202). London: Zed Books.

[6] Yu, Y., & Zheng, F. (2010). Digital power: Public participation in an environmental controversy. In J. J. Kassiola & S. Guo (Eds.), China's environmental crisis: Domestic and global political impacts and responses (pp.123-151). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

[7] H. Christoph Steinhardt and Fengshi Wu, "In the Name of the Public: Environmental Protest and the Changing Landscape of Popular Contention in China," The China Journal, no. 75 (January 2016): -.
DOI: 10.1086/684010

Links

[4] Relocated PX project suspended in Zhangzhou
[click to view]

[2] Explosion Rocks PX Factory in Fujian
[click to view]

[3] Overview of PX protests across China
[click to view]

[1] Suspended Xiamen PX project may restart in Zhangzhou
[click to view]

Other Documents

"To protect our health, to protect the environment: no PX in Xiamen"
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorOxford EJOLT team at Human Geography of China, University of Oxford, UK
Last update19/04/2017
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