Villagers to Battle Waste Plant

China sees growing activism over environment and health concerns.

2012.08.21
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A Chinese worker looks into a garbage incinerator plant in Qionghai, south China's Hainan province, Dec. 1, 2009.
Imaginechina

Residents of an industrial town in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are banding together in protest over plans to build a waste incinerator on their doorstep, local sources said on Tuesday.

More than 1,000 local people turned out for a town meeting late on Monday, amid rising anger and concerns over the health effects of pollution from the planned Humen plant, according to a local village committee member surnamed Zhou.

"There were about 1,000 people there, including bosses from nearby factories and local people," Zhou said in an interview on Tuesday. "All of them were against the planned incinerator, which would have a huge impact on Xinwei [village]," he said.

Zhou said the township government had tried to keep the news under wraps following a campaign on the part of local residents, who wrote more than 10,000 complaint letters about the plans in recent months.

"Now it has come out that they are planning to start work at the location they originally planned for, following an environmental impact assessment," he said.

The government wants to build the Humen Waste Disposal Plant at Dalingshan, just 650 meters from Xinwei and Dapaizhai villages, just 3.8 kilometers from the Henggang reservoir, which supplies Houjie township with drinking water.

The hillside and lakeside location is already home to a number of smart apartment complexes, whose 50,000 residents thought they were buying into one of the last green oases in the Dongguan area, local sources said.

Threat to water?

A Henggang village resident surnamed Lai said she was concerned that pollution from the plant might poison the local supply of drinking water, on which around 100,000 people depend.

She said the high-level location of the plant and the prevailing wind direction would mean that the countryside downwind would be covered in toxic smoke from the incineration process.

"People here don't believe that this won't cause a problem," Lai said. "They are afraid that all these toxic gases will be expelled and that they will start to get sick within the next five years."

"That would be genuinely scary," she said.

A resident of the Haiyi Haoting apartment complex surnamed Huo said the way the government had tried to railroad local people into accepting the project was unacceptable.

"I am definitely against this," she said. "Our home is very near there, probably about five kilometers away."

"There are residential districts in all four directions around the planned incineration plant, and residential areas right next to it, too."

"A lot of people have already voiced their opposition to the incinerator and protested when it was first announced," Huo said. "At the very least they should solicit opinions from local people."

Growing activism

An official who answered the phone at the Dongguan municipal environmental protection department, which oversees Henggang township, said she hadn't heard that the government was planning to proceed with the plant.

"I don't know about that," she said, but declined to comment further.

The preparatory committee for the plant announced plans for the 4.1 billion yuan (U.S.$645 million) incinerator last year, which is projected to burn 1,000 tons of rubbish daily.

Three decades of breakneck economic growth have left Guangdong with a seriously degraded environment, sparking a nascent environmental movement from the city's new middle class.

Previous attempts to build similar plants elsewhere in the province have drawn widespread criticism over local government access to the huge potential profits linked to waste disposal projects.

In 2009, during a similar protest in Panyu, local residents said that incinerators could earn 140 yuan (U.S. $20) per ton in government subsidies for every ton of trash burned, which could amount to 480,000 yuan (U.S. $70,000) per day, or 173 million yuan (U.S. $25 million) each year.

Local residents fear the plants will endanger their health and the environment, while officials say Guangdong has to find some way to dispose of mountains of garbage.

Ordinary Chinese people are becoming increasingly active in support of environmental issues in recent years, putting pressure on governments to implement the country's comprehensive environmental protection laws.

Activists say, however, that environmental officials lack the power to impose the legislation on powerful vested interests at the local level.

Last month, authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan promised to permanently scrap a high-profile copper-processing plant after two days of violent protests from local residents.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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