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Xiangguang Copper Co., LTD., Yanggu, Shandong, China


On May 8, 2018, a famous writer of Shandong province named Wang Xingchuan posted an article on the Internet, exposing the groundwater pollution in Shifo Town, Yanggu County, Liaocheng City, Shandong Province.[1]

The issue was first noticed in April 2017, when Wang Xingchuan returned to his birthplace, a small village of Shifo, Yanggu, he found that after standing still, the drinking water from the groundwater still showed a serious yellow precipitate with a thick yellow suspension and a layer of oil on the surface. He decided to report this situation to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China (hereafter MEE). He called the hotline, the voice prompts were transferred to the county level and then the town level. Nobody replied to address the issue in the end. However, Wang Xingchuan inexplicably received several threatening calls in the next months.[1]

The water pollution issue came to Wang again in April 2018 when he visited Shifo Town and found that nothing has been improved, instead, the pollution is somehow getting even worse. According to the local people, a copper factory, Xiangguang Copper Co., LTD. (hereafter Xiangguang Copper) in Yanggu was discharging wastewater into the underground through pipelines. Wang Xingchuan called the hotline of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Yanggu County to report it again, while the answer is that the bureau is not responsible for this issue and he was suggested to call the Mayor’s Hotline. He did it and was answered to be replied in 3 days, while he didn’t get any further message after three days; it was the same case when he called them again in May 2018. [1]

In the exposing article, Wang Xingchuan made three requests. First, he requested the Liaocheng Government to ask the third-party testing agency outside the province to test the quality of the groundwater in Yanggu County. Second, he requested the government to invite another environmental protection department outside Liaocheng City and representatives of the local residents to start an investigation on the sewage discharge from Xiangguang Copper Co., LTD., and to compare the results with the third-party agency test. And last, he also requested the government to implement specific treatment measures to deal with the contaminated groundwater and to make a transparent time schedule for the process. [1]

Indeed, water pollution has been observed since 2013, while the story can be dated back to 2003. The construction works of a steel plant started while the compensation scheme for the land expropriation has not been accepted by residents in Fanzhuang Village, Shifo Town. They complained to the central government when they were dissatisfied with the responses from the local government. Then the construction works of this project were suspended. [2]

However, nearly half a year later, a group of representatives from the company (Xiangguang Copper) signed land occupation contracts directly with several township governments for several thousand mu of land, including dozens of villages from Shifo and Dingshui in the name that they are going to introduce forage grass. However, in the second year, no forage grass was planted, instead, the construction work for a copper plant started and the villagers only knew that it was Xiangguang Copper after a period of time.[2]

During the construction of the plant, the anger of the nearby villagers was ignited when they knew that the sewage pipelines stretched for dozens of kilometers to the waterways of many villages. The resignation of a foreign engineer and his report to some departments resulted in that the foreign agency threatens to withdraw investment if they could not meet the sewage treatment standard, then Xiangguang Copper changed its discharge way and let the sewage run through the pressure equipment to the underground in the depth of dozens of meters. In this way, there is a higher risk of groundwater pollution. [2]

On December 20, 2007, the construction work of the second phase of the copper plant was stopped when they went to the nearby village to finish the installation of sewage pipelines. The conflict later became violent and the villagers burnt the rubber pipes. Police went to the scene but were unable to maintain order and requested reinforcements. As soon as the reinforcements entered the construction site, they were attacked by the local villagers, 13 vehicles were destroyed in the conflict. The conflict only slowed down the pace of the construction of the copper plant. Subsequently, the police oppressed the villagers and the second phase of the copper plant was finally completed.[2][3]

Resistances followed with the construction of the copper plant, complaining letters/articles were posted on forums (e.g. Tianya)[4]and blogs (e.g. Sina)[5]. Some villagers also contacted TV stations. However, after some while, most of the posts were deleted and the relevant accounts were blocked. Living with pollution became normal for the local residents, some of them got a job in the plant, some others moved out. [1]

In June 2014, an anonymous complaint was posted on the Message Board for Local Leaders on and was addressed to the Shandong Provincial Party Committee Secretary. It described the groundwater pollution in Fangzhuang Village by copper smelting and the high incidences of cancer and leukemia, and villagers had to send their children out of the village to study or work and other impacts and costs that local residents were suffering, urging the government to save them and to avoid it become a ‘ghost village’. In the reply after two months, the government (official leaders) denied that the copper smelting should take the responsibility, saying that “… Xiangguang Copper is one of the first seven enterprises to meet the ‘Entry Requirements for Copper Smelting Industry’, which was approved by the National Development and Reform Commission of China. Xiangguang Copper has also been rated as one of the ten ‘National Environmentally Friendly Projects’ by MEE. …the sewage produced by the enterprise is processed according to the requirements of the EIA, and then discharged through the enclosed pipeline system…all the data was monitored and uploaded, no violations were detected. ”At the same time, a sample water test was arranged by the Shifo Township Government on July 10th, according to the report released by the environmental monitoring station of Yanggu county on July 15th, heavy metals such as copper, lead, hexavalent chromium and cadmium were not detected in the groundwater, the pH value was neutral, no abnormal groundwater in Fangzhuang Village was found. The same reply also denied the high incidences of leukemia and cancer and its linkages with the copper plant.[6]

After Wang Xingchuan’s complaint on 3 May 2018, the Yanggu County Government claimed one week later that they entrusted a qualified third-party environmental protection company with the Environmental Protection Bureau of Shandong Province, the Environmental Protection Bureau of Liaocheng City and more than 20 representatives of the local residents as the inspection team to collect groundwater samples from Cuixi village, Dingshui Town and other surrounding areas for the test, however, no obvious abnormalities were observed.[7]

Whether the wastewater discharged from the copper plant met the standard requirements was doubted by the villagers and some of them knew that, in order to cope with the inspection, a pool of two divided layers was built near the discharge port as early as during the trial operation of the copper plant. The toxic wastewater was discharged through the PVC pipes below, while the upper layer was cleaned and fish was cultivated, which successfully made the inspection team feel that the water quality is qualified. [4]In 2015, in the inspection of Liaocheng Environmental Protection Bureau, Yanggu Xiangguang Copper was found that auto-monitoring equipment for heavy metals did not work. The copper plant was ordered to stop production and was fined (only) 50,000 yuan (~6,666 USD) for this violation. [2]

About 80% of the villages in Shifo Township have access to tap water (with a time constraint for water release). People have no dare to drink the water from their own wells, but they use the water for laundry or for the animals. [4] Copper smelting is the most polluting chemical production method in the world,[8]crops that were irrigated with the water from the rivers were also polluted, potentially, unsafe food would be circulated in both the local market and the national one.[9]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Xiangguang Copper Co., LTD., Yanggu, Shandong, China
State or province:Shandong
Location of conflict:Shifo Township (e.g. Fangzhuang Village) and Dingshui Township (e.g. Cuixi Village), Yanggu County, Liaocheng City
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral processing
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Metal refineries
Specific commodities:Copper

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Xiangguang Copper can produce 450,000 tons of copper cathode magnets/years, 150,000 tons of regenerated cathode copper/years and 320,000 tons of copper deep processing products/years. [10]

The affected population is estimated as the population of Shifo Town and Dingshui Town. [11][12]

Project area:200
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:63,000
Start of the conflict:2003
Company names or state enterprises:GMK Holdings from China - parent company of Xiangguang Copper
Xiangguang Copper Co., LTD. from China - suspect polluter
Relevant government actors:-National Development and Reform Commission of China
-Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China (MEE)
-Environmental Protection Bureau of Shandong Province
-Liaocheng Municipal Government
-Environmental Protection Bureau of Liaocheng City
-Yanggu County Government
-Environmental Protection Bureau of Yanggu County
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Wang Xingchuan, a writer from Shandong

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local celebrity: a writer
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Property damage/arson


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Soil erosion
Potential: Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Deaths, Other Health impacts
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents
Other Health impactsHigh incidences of cancer and leukemia
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Other socio-economic impactsLocal villagers have to migrate out, and they have to spend more on water access, etc.


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Violent targeting of activists
The local villagers gradually began to move out because the pollution was not solved.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Groundwater pollution in Shifo Town is very serious, endangering the health and food safety of local villagers. But officias have always insisted that groundwater is not contaminated. For more than a decade, the problems have not been solved.

Sources & Materials

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1]知名作家王兴川实名举报山东阳谷县地下水污染(accessed on 7-17-2019)

[7]关于网传我县“地下水污染”调查情况的通报(accessed on 2-8-2019 )

[3]谁该为13辆警车被毁“埋单”? ——对山东省聊城市(acessed on 7-30-2019)

[10]祥光有色金属(accessed on 2-8-2019 )

[11]石佛镇——百度百科(accessed on 2-8-2019 )

[2]阳谷祥光铜厂,纸包不住火!(accessed on 7-17-2019)

[5]山东聊城阳谷祥光铜厂,你是造福百姓?还是断子绝孙?(accessed on 7-24-2019)

[6]重金属的污染——地方领导留言板(acessed on 7-30-2019)

[9]武松打虎的故乡—看山东省阳谷县肮胀的官致癌的水断子绝孙的企业(accessed on 2-8-2019 )

[8]阳谷县人民政府——阳谷概况(accessed on 2-8-2019 )

[12]定水镇——百度百科(accessed on 6-8-2019 )

[4]谁来拯救我们?——天涯论坛(accessed on 8-6-2019)

Other documents

Contaminated groundwater in Shifo Town and wheat irrigated with contaminated groundwater.[2]

Contaminated groundwater in Shifo Town.[2]

Contaminated groundwater in Shifo Town.[2]

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB/ 2019 interns
Last update10/08/2019



Contaminated groundwater in Shifo Town.[2]


Contaminated groundwater in Shifo Town.[2]