Residents at two locations in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong launched mass campaigns against waste disposal units near their homes this week, amid clashes between police and protesters near one site, local people told RFA.
Thousands of residents of Chunwan township near Guangdong's Yangchun city faced off with police outside the Conch Cement Factory in their neighborhood in a protest that ended in clashes on Tuesday, protesters said.
Police have now cordoned off the area around the factory, where the construction of a privately owned waste incinerator plant had sparked the protest in the first place.
"The riot police came in and cracked down on everything," a Chunwan resident who declined to be named told RFA on Wednesday. "They had been sending them here for several days, and they beat up anyone and everyone."
"Lots of people were injured each day [of the protest]. The police came in several dozens of buses and minivans," the resident said. "Some of the local people were going up against them with firecrackers. The police had anti-riot gear, and they fired tear gas [on Tuesday].
"Anyone who couldn't run fast enough got a real beating ... and a lot of people were detained, although some have been released now, but we haven't seen the others yet."
He said police have sealed off all roads into and out of the township and are preventing anyone from entering or leaving.
"They have people standing guard in all the villages; nobody can get out," he said.
The protests started after the Conch factory ran its newly constructed incinerator plant for three hours on Oct. 3, spreading evil-smelling gases and black sooty particles across residential areas within a three-kilometer radius of the plant, residents said.
Before then, nobody had any idea that a waste incinerator had even been built near their homes, they said, adding that they immediately feared the impact on their health of dioxins, a carcinogenic byproduct of the process.
A resident surnamed Hong said the authorities had not informed or consulted with local people before giving the go-ahead to the plant.
"They just sent people here to beat them up, more and more every day,"
she said. "They fired tear gas when they saw people gathering and beat them. The local people were very, very angry."
She said private security guards were drafted in as reinforcement to regular police officers.
"They brought them in from Foshan and Dongguan, elsewhere in Guangdong," Hong said. "They put on their police uniforms when they got to the Chunwan police station, took their batons and then set about anyone they saw on the street."
"Yesterday was totally crazy, with police firing tear gas and dragging people away. Both police and villagers got injured," she said.
Dealing with the problems
An employee who answered the phone at the Yangchun long-distance bus station confirmed that road blocks had been in place.
"The police have sealed off the roads ... things are running normally for now, but they won't if the police seal the roads again," he said.
"The police road blocks are temporary, but they don't inform us about them."
And an official who answered the phone at the Yangchun municipal government offices on Wednesday said local leaders are "dealing with" the problems at the Conch factory.
"Our leaders are dealing with this matter, but we don't know what is going on; all we know is what's already on the Internet," the official said. "You need to call the propaganda department."
But calls to the propaganda department rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Decades of rapid economic growth have left Guangdong with a growing waste disposal problem, but attempts to build incinerators in the province in response to generous government subsidies have drawn widespread anger and fear of pollution.
Authorities in Guangdong's Qingyuan city are holding three people after several hundred people stormed government offices on Tuesday in protest at a waste transportation depot.
"The people on the square outside city hall were holding up banners which read, ‘Strongly opposed to the waste depot on Banhuan North Road,'" an eyewitness and local resident surnamed Yang told RFA on Wednesday.
"They shoved in through the glass doors; a lot of people managed to get to the main entrance waving banners and placards," she said. "After that, they sent in the riot police."
Residents are angry over plans to build the waste depot less than 50 meters from their homes, Yang said.
"They haven't even put up a wall; just a metal barrier [around the site], and it's less than 50 meters away," she said.
A second resident surnamed Cao said local people are very worried about pollution.
"Of course, we will be affected by it, especially children and older people, because the air we breathe won't be as good," Cao said. "It will probably also encourage mosquito breeding."
Guangdong's seriously degraded environment has prompted a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region's middle classes and farming communities alike.
Last May, tens of thousands of residents of Qianshui township near Guangdong's Wuchuan city gathered outside government offices, calling on the government to cancel plans to build a waste incinerator near their homes.
A few weeks earlier, thousands took to the streets of Langtang township near Guangdong's Yunfu city over similar plans by their local government.
Environmentalists say Chinese environmental protection laws are well-drafted but seldom implemented, thanks to a proliferation of vested interests and collusion between local governments and business.
Campaigners have raised growing concerns over the falsification of pollution testing and environmental impact assessments, amid worsening levels of air and water pollution and widespread disputes over the effects on children's health of heavy metals from mining and industry.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to and Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.