Residents of the eastern Chinese city of Taizhou are concerned the authorities may reintroduce plans for a petrochemical plant which they fear will pose a health threat in an area which is already heavily polluted.
Official media have reported plans only for a mammoth 80 billion yuan ($12.5 billion) petroleum refinery, a joint venture between China National Petroleum Co., Qatar Petroleum International and Royal Dutch Shell in Taizhou.
But residents fear local officials may be planning to also set up a paraxylene (PX) plant, which sparked protests in Taizhou when the project was first made public in 2008.
Paraxylene is a toxic petrochemical used in polyester products.
China's state-run media, as well as official websites, have so far given only sketchy details of the refinery project, with no mention of a PX plant as part of the refinery complex.
A protest march to register residents' objections to the planned petroleum plant has been scheduled on Aug. 19.
"In [the cities of] Xiamen ... and Dalian everybody opposed it, so that's why they're bringing [it near here], just 28 kilometers [17.4 miles] from ... Taizhou city," said a resident surnamed Lin. "Xiamen didn't want it. Dalian didn't want it either, so it's come to Taizhou."
Taizhou residents first began mobilizing against the proposed plant as early as 2008, after similar protests in the southeastern port city of Xiamen stalled a PX project there a year earlier.
The overseas Chinese-language news website Canyu quoted local people as saying via popular microblogging services that any planned PX plant could have three times the capacity of the Xiamen plant.
"As soon as this petrochemical plant gets off the ground, Taizhou will be turned into a wasteland," Canyu quoted one local resident as saying.
"Taiwan didn't want it. The people of Xiamen opposed it to the death and banished it, but the government of Taizhou wants business and doesn't care about local people."
Netizens posted messages citing various health concerns if the PX plant is set up in Taizhou.
A Taizhou resident surnamed Zhu said the project has also sparked fears because of the location, which is prone to tropical storms and typhoons.
The government has made public no details of the project since it was announced, and online discussion of the topic has quickly been deleted by China's Internet censors, a resident surnamed Liu said.
"If they block information, then people won't understand what's really going on, and they will take to the streets to make their demands," Liu said.
"Their ignorance of the facts is the work of the government, because all the channels though which they could learn them have been blocked."
A resident of Taizhou surnamed Li claimed that proposed chemical plants in Taizhou's Shujiang district had been shelved because of the threat of pollution.
"In the past three years ... they have been built in other places, but now they are talking about building them again," Li said. "I don't know the reason for this."
He said local people were planning a march on Aug. 19 in protest at the planned plant.
"They will be marching," he said. "If they want me to go, I'll go."
No public mention has been made of a PX plant in the vast petrochemical complex, which could process 20 million tons of crude oil and produce 1.2 million tons of ethylene annually, and includes a crude terminal capable of docking 300,000-ton tankers.
The project has yet to be approved in its entirety by the State Development and Reform Committee (SDRC) in Beijing, although preliminary infrastructure projects linked to the eventual plant have been given the go-ahead, the official Global Times newspaper reported.
Local officials told the paper that there were still many bureaucratic hurdles for the project to clear, including environmental assessments.
An official who answered the phone at the projects section of the Taizhou municipal environmental protection department confirmed that an environmental assessment had taken place.
"We have done it," the official said, but declined to comment further. "It is out of office hours now, and we are still doing it."
Chinese officials have warned that the country is facing a "grave" environmental crisis, with more than half its cities affected by acid rain and one-sixth of its major rivers too polluted even to water crops with.
Three decades of breakneck economic growth have taken their toll on the country's natural resources, sparking a huge increase in public unrest linked to environmental degradation and health problems caused by pollution.
Thousands gathered in the northeastern port city of Dalian in August 2011 to call on the government to close down a petrochemical plant that made paraxylene.
The protests, which resulted in a promise by the city's leaders to close the plant, echoed a similar movement in the southeastern port city of Xiamen in 2007, when the municipal government backed down on a planned PX plant following massive popular anger and demonstrations.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.