Hundreds of local residents clashed with riot police after gathering outside government offices in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang on Thursday in protest over plans to set up an electroplating plant near their homes.
Authorities in Zhejiang's Dongyang city sent in riot police after the protesters waved banners, shouted slogans and handed out leaflets to passers-by outside the municipal government offices.
"There were about 1,000 people, a lot, anyway," a protester surnamed Ning told RFA's Cantonese Service. "Personally, I think the city government were ready for us, because the riot police were in place before I got there."
"They had thrown a security cordon [around the buildings] and wouldn't allow people in," she said.
"There was some shoving and scuffling from both sides in the process, and an elderly resident was shoved to the ground, and a few of the residents were dragged into the government offices and held there," Ning said.
The protesters dispersed about three hours later, after some officials came out to speak with them, while those who had been detained were released later in the day, she added.
Ning said local residents hadn't been told that the electroplating plant would set up shop in the vacated factory premises.
"We had to find out via other channels," she said, adding: "How can you put toxic chemicals in a residential district? We will all be slowly poisoned to death."
Repeated calls to the Dongyang municipal government went unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
"We definitely don't agree with this [plan]," a Dongyang resident surnamed Ni told RFA's Mandarin Service. "The pollution levels in the nearby water treatment plant are extremely high; the pollution from the electroplating plant would be even worse."
He said the electroplating plant planned to take over premises vacated by a clothing manufacturer.
A complaint letter penned by residents and posted online said the plant's use of concentrated acids and alkalis and other chemicals would likely lead to carcinogenic toxins leaching into the environment.
"We are very opposed to this, but what use is our opposition?" a resident surnamed Huang said. "There was some light pollution from the clothes factory, but the electroplating plant uses heavy metals, so it's much more serious."
"Now, there's a huge fuss about it."
An official who answered the phone at the Dongyang environmental protection bureau said the area in question had been designated an industrial zone.
"The city government arranged it that way," he said. "We don't have the power to do that here at the environmental protection bureau."
But he added: "If they do take up occupancy, then we will undertake monitoring activities, and if they are over the pollution limits, we will tell them to fix it."
Worsening levels of air and water pollution, as well as disputes over the effects of heavy metals from mining and industry, have forced ordinary Chinese to become increasingly involved in environmental protection and protest.
China has a comprehensive set of environmental protection legislation, but close ties between business and officials mean that it is rarely enforced at a local level, activists and experts say.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.