As Typhoon Meihua battered China’s east coast in early August, a dyke protecting China’s largest manufacturer of paraxylene (PX) was washed away, bringing the plant’s existence to the attention of the local population and triggering public safety fears (Tang Hao, China Dialogue, 6 September 2011).
Over 10,000 residents of the north-eastern city of Dalian gathered in front of the municipal government building to express opposition to the project, demanding the plant be moved and the full details made public (ibid). Demonstrators said they feared a natural disaster could wreak havoc on their city if it damaged the PX plant and exposed residents to the toxic chemical. Officials have said there was no leak at the plant (Kathleen McLaughlin, Global Post, 15 August 2011).
Xinhua said the city's top official, Tang Jun, had tried to calm the crowd on Sunday but the protesters showed no sign of dispersing (BBC, 14 August 2011). There were no reports of injuries in the scuffles during which riot police were deployed to shield the municipal government office (ibid). Photographs posted on the internet on Sunday showed protesters, including children, marching under such banners as "I love Dalian and reject poison" and "Give me back my home and garden! PX out! Protect Dalian!" (ibid).
Though the dyke was subsequently repaired, fears persisted amongst the local residents about the potential for leakage of poisonous chemicals (BBC, 14 August 2011).
Wang Canfa, an environmental law professor and director of the Beijing-based Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV), noted that the Dalian plant was illegal to begin with because it hadn’t passed a mandated environmental assessment (Kathleen McLaughlin, Global Post, 15 August 2011). Hao echoes this by observing that "available material shows that construction of the PX project violated regulations...[since the plant] is located just 20 kilometres from the city centre – closer than is permitted by government standards. [Furthermore], the plant started production before the environmental authorities had even authorized trial operations" (China Dialogue, 6 September 2011).
While this case appears to illustrate the power of the local citizenry in getting their voices and demands heard by the local government, commentators have noted that "moving the plant outside the city only makes it somebody else’s problem" (Kathleen McLaughlin, Global Post, 15 August 2011). However, there were reports on Monday that the plant was operating normally despite the order to shut down. A source told Reuters the plant was continuing to carry shipments from regular suppliers such as Iran and Papua New Guinea (ibid).
In early December 2012, an apparently leaked document was circulated online, suggesting that the plant has passed fresh safety checks and was preparing to resume production (Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, 13 January 2012). The government and the factory declined to confirm or deny the reports. "I cannot tell you if Fujia has resumed production," said Yang Guang of the Dalian Propaganda Office. "We are still planning to move the plant to Xizhong Island. That is a government decision. But it takes time." (ibid). The problems of oversight were apparent in the response of the Dalian Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) to the Guardian's queries about the status of the PX plant. "We don't have the authority to supervise it. Call someone else in the government," said an official (ibid).