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Shutangshan Village Chemical Factory Pollution in Hunan Province, China


Description:

Shutangshan, a village surrounded by green hills and clear water, is located 20 kilometres north of Changsha City in Hunan Province. It was once the study place of Ouyang Xun, a famous Tang Dynasty calligrapher (1). The beautiful Xiang River runs through the village. Its convenient location and scenery once made it one of the most habitable villages in China. Unfortunately, an over decade-long nightmare of pollution started by the establishment of a profitable allicin producer in the village drove away those who were capable of moving and left the village heading downhill. (2) Apart from economic loss, including deaths of cows, bees, fish, shrimps and bamboo caused by toxication, more and more villagers suffered or died of various types of cancer, including esophageal cancer, cerebral cancer, oophoroma, liver cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and lung cancer. (3) The accused polluter is Hunan Jingtian Science and Technology Company (湖南晶天科技实业有限公司)(hereafter Jingtian), known as China’s largest allicin producer. Allicin, a liquid chemical commonly used as an additive in pig feed, is mainly composed of disulphide and trisulphide. A trace of allicin is enough to produce a foul smell that will travel far. In addition, its production needs chloropropene, which upon leakage may cause great harm to human health and the environment. (4) The story of Shutangshan’s pollution goes back to 2001. That year a machinery plant went bankrupt in the village and the local Wangcheng County Government soon settled on Jingtian, which at the time had already made a deposit of 100,000 yuan to another city in Hunan for its chosen factory site. As Wangcheng government was desperate for jobs for the 200 workers of the bankrupted plant, it decided to pay back Jingtian the deposit and postpone necessary environmental and fire control procedures. Therefore, Jingtian started straight away without carrying out any environmental impact assessment (EIA). The company’s waste discharge was left unattended and the emission of industrial waste gas, boiler dust and fume exhausted were causing concerns. (3) The waste water discharge pipe, which was one metre in diameter, started underground from the inside of the factory, but soon revealed itself once reaching the river bank and continued to extend into the river. The foul smell would immediately stop anyone from getting close or lingering around. Looking back towards east from the river bank, black smoke was pouring up from the factory’s chimney to form a fifty to sixty-metre long black belt in the sky. On one rainy day, the factory directly dumped its waste residue through the windows of a work unit. The rain water, which carried the residue forward, scorched all grass and plants on the way into the Xiang River. In May 2007, Hunan Analytical Centre (湖南省分析测试中心) collected drinking water and soil samples near the factory’s waste discharge pipe. The water sample showed that the pH value, chloropropene and sulphide contended all exceeded standards, and the soil sample showed the pH value, chloropropene, chloride, sulphide and total arsenic contended also exceeded standards, with total arsenic 15 times higher than standards. (4) The effects of the pollution were first noticed by CHEN Lifang (陈利芳). Living next door to the factory, she started to feel nauseous soon after the factory opened. (4) In villagers’ opinions, CHEN is a capable house keeper, who is relatively better educated as a high school graduate among her peers. She has nice handwriting and is always decently dressed with neat body gestures. However, it is also this very middle-aged country woman that had persistently petitioned and written to government officials and environmental protection bureaus at various levels since 2004. (3) Upon using up peaceful means, she even unexpectedly became an instigator of a pollution riot. (5) As time went on, more and more villagers started to experience dizziness and fatigue while working in the fields. They also suffered from nausea, vomiting and severe stomach pains. What made the villagers panic the most was the rapid development of cancer cases. (2) From spring 2001, villagers started to talk to the factory, requesting an upgrade of their emissions-control equipment and a halt to the most polluting production lines. They also petitioned Wangcheng County and Changsha City’s environmental protection bureaus, but outcomes were fruitless. (5) Villagers’ actions gradually broadened in scale after 2002 and by spring 2004 they amounted to nearly 100 times, but there had been no intense conflicts between the two parties before then. In April 2004, a villager digging a well inside the factory suddenly started to vomit severely from inhaling the poisonous gas and was diagnosed with chemical toxication after being accepted into hospital. This incidence triggered villagers’ frustration to explode into irrational force. (3) They gathered in groups twice in summer 2004 to go and disconnect the factory’s electricity. CHEN Lifang led the second action, which put the factory out of operation for three days. (5) Police interfered and CHEN was arrested and served an 18-day jail term in Wangcheng County’s prison. (2) In the same year, the pressurised Jingtian invested over 3 million in the upgrade of the allicin work unit and a new waste water disposal basin. It finally submitted the overdue EIA, which was accepted by the Environmental Protection Bureau of Changsha. (4) However, villagers were still suspicious about whether Jingtian’s pollution treatment was up to standard and whether it was still secretly discharging waste. In January 2006, CHEN Lifang made her way to Beijing to petition SEPA (State Environmental Protection Administration), which ultimately passed the ball back to the environmental protection bureau in Changsha. In October, she made an appeal to China Economic Times, which made Shutangshan’s pollution publicly known. (3) Meanwhile, CHEN Lifang’s son, a high school graduate then, turned to the Internet for help and got in touch with the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV). After meeting CHEN upon her return to Beijing in November, CLAPV formally filed the case and introduced her to ZHOU Guangming (周光明), a volunteer lawyer in Hunan. In January 2007, Professor XU Kezhu (许可祝) from CLAPV arrived at Shutangshan Village for an investigation and found a series of problems in the archived EIA submitted by Jingtian back in 2004. (4) She decided on a plan to sue the local environmental protection bureau for rubber-stamping a faulted EIA report, as rather than endeavouring to establish the casual link between the factory’s waste discharge and villager’s illnesses, she was more confident to definitely prove administrative failure. The aim of the lawsuit was to force the local officials to shut down the factory.

(5) Jintian eventually moved to a different location in 2013 and Wangcheng County Government was eager to put a full stop to the incident. CHEN Lifang suspected that the real purpose of the factory’s relocation was to avoid compensation and responsibility for the pollution and soil recovery. (2) Ironically, in May 2014, an article titled “Environmental Guardian’s Petitioning Finally Ceased After Conflicts Resolved with Great Effort” was published on the official website of the Wangcheng Area Shutangshan Street. The article provided a seemingly neutral summarisation of the pollution incidence with a detectable note of disapproval of CHEN’s trouble causing behaviours. It focused on how attentive the local officials were to CHEN’s court request for compensation from Jingtian and highly praised them for carrying out detailed work around the issue. CHEN was said to have eventually agreed to stop petitioning after receiving repeated home visits from the officials, who moved her with empathy and reasons. The article ended with a joyful tone calling it a “beautifully won battle” on stability maintenance concerning petitions. (6)

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Shutangshan Village Chemical Factory Pollution in Hunan Province, China
Country:China
State or province:Hunan
Location of conflict:Shutangshan Villlage, Wangcheng County
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:Chemical products
Allicin, a liquid chemical commonly used as an additive in pig feed, mainly composed of disulphide and trisulphide

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/2001
End of the conflict:30/04/2014
Company names or state enterprises:Hunan Jingtian Science and Technology Company (湖南晶天科技实业有限公司) from China
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Informal workers
Women
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Sabotage

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Application of existing regulations
Withdrawal of company/investment
The industrial plant was moved to another place.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The villagers did triumph in that they eventually made Jingtian move from their village and stopped the pollution from further developing. However, the company’s move was also regarded by villagers as a way of evading responsibility. Villagers received little compensation from Jingtian for their harmed health and economic loss despite of petitions, riots and professionally aided lawsuits. After the factory moved away, the land of its original location was simply covered with fresh soil transferred from a nearby hill and finished with cement on top. Once the fresh top soil was removed, a strong smell would immediately reveal itself and could cause nausea and stomach pain within minutes. The polluter had made money and escaped, but who should shoulder the responsibility for treating the polluted environment? (2)

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

3. 湖南晶天科技污染疑致“怪病” 村民因上访被刑拘
http://www.clapv.org/meitibaodao_content.asp?id=524

2. 湘江畔的大蒜污染事件 長沙望城採樣筆記
http://e-info.org.tw/node/100579

4. 全国最大大蒜素生产企业污染湘江7年
http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2008-07-20/112815965338.shtml

5. China’s Pollution Revolution
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0712.larson2.html

1. 书堂山简介
http://619795.108cun.com/article408915

6. 千方百计化矛盾 环保卫士终息访
http://sts.wangcheng.gov.cn/gzdt/201405/t20140522_139258.html

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

“先上车后买票”环评报告问题重重
http://www.clapv.org/meitibaodao_content.asp?id=467

研讨湖南晶天科技公司望城污染案件
http://weibo.com/p/1001603859829256012032?from=singleweibo&mod=recommand_article

我中心检举环评报告失实 环保部通报批评环评机构
http://www.clapv.org/meitibaodao_content.asp?id=265

关于长沙环境保护职业技术学院环境影响评价问题处理意见的通报
http://www.mep.gov.cn/info/bgw/bbgtwj/200811/t20081121_131518.htm

The shadow over rural China
https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/4098-The-shadow-over-rural-China

Nation’s Largest Allicin Producer Sickens Residents, Plays Cat-and-mouse with Watchdog
http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/08/nations-largest-allicin-producer-sickens-residents-plays-cat-and-mouse-with-watchdog/

Liu Lican (2013) qiang guo bing cun (強國病村), HK: Mingpao

Wilson, S. (2015) Tigers without teeth: The Pursuit of Justice in Contemporary China, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

湖南晶天污染村民怨声载道 中心派员赶赴现场调查
http://www.clapv.org/meitibaodao_content.asp?id=297

原告陈利芳、杜庆珊、袁国祥、文云凯、陈顺和、袁建国、胡灵芝、陈建华不服被告长沙市环境保护局《关于湖南晶天科技实业有限公司450t/a饲料添加剂工程环境影响报告书
http://cpws.flssw.com/info/6417730/

Meta information

Contributor:China environment and welfare research group, university of Oxford
Last update27/02/2018

Images

 

Jingtian Factory

Black smoke from the factory's chimney

 

Factory's waste water discharge pipe into the Xiang River

 

CHEN Lifang