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Controversy over planned paraxylene (PX) plant expansion in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China


Description:

The demonstrations in Ningbo began on 24 October 2012, when about 200 villagers began petitioning over environmental concerns over a planned chemical plant and blocked traffic in the streets, the local government said [1]. In a statement, the Zhenhai district government condemned those it blamed for organizing sit-ins and blocking roads in Ningbo but insisted that public sentiment would be taken into consideration before the start of construction. “Detailed information will be published when environmental reviews are implemented, and public opinions on the project will be heeded,” the statement said [2].

The protests grew over the weekend as thousands of students and middle-class residents converged on a downtown square carrying handmade banners and wearing surgical masks painted with skull and bones [3]. Photographs of the weekend demonstrations, many taken by cellphone, appeared to show riot police officers swinging batons as they chased protesters or beat those who had fallen to the ground. Censors worked quickly to delete images and witnesses’ accounts posted on Sina Weibo, China’s popular microblogging service. The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, an organization based in Hong Kong, said 10 people were injured after the police fired tear gas and moved to break up the protests, which took place in Tianyi Square in downtown Ningbo [2].

By Sunday, the authorities had promised “resolutely not to go ahead with the PX project,” according to a statement published on the local Zhenhai district government website and printed in the Ningbo Daily.

The city of Ningbo—a prosperous port of 3.4 million people, near Shanghai—is hardly one of China’s cancer villages, the kind contributing to the thousands of pollution-related protests that happen each year in China. The mostly middle-class protestors were not rising up because of past harms, but for fear of of potential health risks, should the planned facility to manufacture the chemical paraxylene, or PX, leak toxins into surrounding rivers and coastal waters [4].

One protestor, whose Weibo (a Chinese micro-blog) account lists his name as Liu Jimi, wrote online of another region in Zhejiang province that he believes has been contaminated by chemical factories. Liu holds this up as a cautionary tale of what he doesn’t want to happen in his hometown: “Outside the Zhoushan fishing zone, which once was rich in seafood, now there is nothing. The sick people are diagnosed more and more frequently with cancer, and many people can smell the filth in the water as they fall asleep. But now the government wants to build more chemical plants near us [in Ningbo], as the taxes brought in through various other private industries seem not to satisfy them." [4] Ma Jun, an environmental activist in Beijing, applauded the government’s decision to halt the project but hoped the weekend of unrest would convince Chinese leaders that soliciting public opinion on industrial development is in their best interest, especially given how much money is wasted when such projects are canceled mid-way. “We’ve seen the same pattern over and over again,” said Mr. Ma, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. “Ignoring public concerns leads to confrontation. We can’t resolve all our environmental issues through street action. The cost is just too high." [3]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Controversy over planned paraxylene (PX) plant expansion in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China
Country:China
State or province:Zhejiang
(municipality or city/town) Zhenhai district, Ningbo
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Paraxylene
Chemical products

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

The expanded Sinopec plant is designed to produce 15 million tonnes of refined oil and 1.2 million tonnes of ethylene annually [1].

Level of Investment:8,900,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:7,605,689 (Ningbo Municipal Statistic Bureau 2010 Census)
Start of the conflict:24/10/2012
End of the conflict:28/10/2012
Company names or state enterprises:China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec ) from China - The plant is owned by Sinopec.
Relevant government actors:The Zhenhai district government; Chen Bingrong, the city’s vice secretary general
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:villagers, local residents (mainly middle class)

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Other Health impacts"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).
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The project merely appears to be temporarily halted. Furthermore, since 12 December 2013, "expanding plants making the dangerous chemical paraxylene (PX)...no longer need ministerial approval", requiring only approval from local EPBs "to simplify procedures and improve efficiency, according to a statement on its website" [5].

Sources and Materials

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

1. Chinese City Says It Opposes Chemical Project After Protests
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-28/chinese-city-will-assess-sinopec-chemical-project-after-protests.html

2. Protests Against Expansion of China Chemical Plant Turn Violent
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/world/asia/protests-against-expansion-of-china-chemical-plant-turn-violent.html

3. Protests Over Chemical Plant Force Chinese Officials to Back Down
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/29/world/asia/protests-against-sinopec-plant-in-china-reach-third-day.html?_r=0

4. Protests in China Get a Boost From Social Media
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-29/protests-in-china-get-a-boost-from-social-media

Fears over expanded paraxylene projects as Beijing decentralises approval process
http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1378798/fears-over-expanded-paraxylene-projects-beijing-decentralises-approval

Other documents

PX, get out of Ningbo! get out of China!
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/PX__get_out_of_Ningbo__get_out_of_China.jpg

We want our livelihoods, we want to survive
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/We_want_our_livelihoods__we_want_to_survive.jpg

PXBX, BX is short for buxing, which means NO
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/PXBX__BX_is_short_for_buxing__which_means_NO.jpg

For future generations, not for GDP!
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/For_future_generations__not_for_GDP.jpg

Love Zhenhai, Love Ningbo, No PX!
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Love_Zhenhai__Love_Ningbo__No_PX.jpg

Save Zhenhai, Save Ningbo, Save China
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Save_Zhenhai__Save_Ningbo__Save_China.jpg

No birds, no tigers, no rice, only houses, roads and pollutions, our mother earth is crying, god is angry The guy with mask is holding a paperboard with a limerick to call for environmental justice.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Poem_-_no_birds__no_tigers__no_rice__only_houses__roads_and_pollutions__our_mother_earth_is_crying__god_is_angry.jpg

Meta information

Contributor:EJOLT team at School of Geography and China Centre, University of Oxford
Last update09/02/2018

Images

 

PX, get out of Ningbo! get out of China!

 

For future generations, not for GDP!

 

Love Zhenhai, Love Ningbo, No PX!

 

We want our livelihoods, we want to survive

 

PXBX, BX is short for buxing, which means NO

 

Save Zhenhai, Save Ningbo, Save China

 

No birds, no tigers, no rice, only houses, roads and pollutions, our mother earth is crying, god is angry

The guy with mask is holding a paperboard with a limerick to call for environmental justice.