Mining activities near Lianyuan city in the central Chinese province of Hunan have left the local environment polluted, causing problems for the supply of drinking water to local villages, residents say.
Residents in the area around Lianyuan's Fengping township say the Qingshu No. 2 Mine has pumped out polluted wastewater for several years, and blame it for several cases of cancer and a water supply that is now undrinkable.
Seven activists from Qingshu village have recently petitioned central government authorities in Beijing on behalf of more than 3,000 villagers, saying the local government has refused to act.
"The Qingshu No. 2 Mine has been polluting the environment for four years now," said one of the village representatives, Liang Xianghe.
"We have no water to drink, and our houses are at risk [from subsidence]," he said.
Liang said the mine is illegal and was dug without consultation with local people.
A second Qingshu resident, Xie Keren, said many villagers have fallen ill because of the pollution from the mine.
"Right now, where we live, there is silicosis," Xie said. "A lot of people have silicosis right now."
A clean environment
Beijing-based independent writer Ma Xiao, who hails from Qingshu, said he has been encouraging the local people to fight for their right to a clean environment.
"Firstly, there is the environmental pollution, the emissions from the mine, the tailings and the wastewater, which have polluted all of the local ponds, rivers, and paddy fields," Ma said.
"Secondly, access to the underground water table has been permanently lost because the mining company is illegally exploiting the 'security layer' of coal."
"This means that right now in our hometown there is no water left for day-to-day use, nor for industrial use," Ma said.
"All the villagers can do is rely on wells they dig themselves."
Ma said that many villagers suffer health problems linked to the pollution, while an estimated 100 households have been seriously affected by subsidence.
"There are around 100 houses that have been seriously damaged, and there are also a lot of health problems like silicosis ... and other respiratory diseases," he said.
Repeated calls to Fengping township Party secretary Kuang Qingxian went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Lianyuan Party secretary Xie Xuelong declined to comment on the villagers' complaints.
"We have a propaganda unit that is tasked with handling outside queries," Xie said. "They will be able to tell you the details."
Calls to the propaganda department went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Ma said the villagers have come under intense pressure from the authorities to stop complaining about them.
"Around a dozen villagers were illegally held under house arrest by the Lianyuan police department after they were brought back by local government officials from a petitioning trip to Beijing," he said.
Three decades of rapid economic growth have sparked a huge increase in public protests linked to environmental degradation and health problems caused by pollution in recent years.
While China has a comprehensive set of environmental laws, powerful vested interests at local level often hamper attempts to enforce them, campaigners say.
State media recently reported that less than 50 percent of China's piped water supply passes the government's own quality standards.
Public health experts are warning of the risk of a growing burden of disease as a result of dwindling supplies of drinkable water, as over-drilling of wells in drought-stricken northern China has led to unacceptably high levels of salt in the water table.
Water in southern China is commonly siphoned off from rivers to irrigate crops, with the runoff from farmlands pouring large quantities of nitrates and phosphorus from fertilizers back into the rivers, the paper said.
Last year, official figures showed that more than half of China's cities are affected by acid rain, while one-sixth of major rivers are too polluted even for use in watering crops.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.