Authorities in the northern Chinese province of Hebei are holding at least 10 people after police threw a security cordon around a waste incinerator plant following clashes with angry local residents.
Some 2,000 residents of Luofa township near Hebei's Langfang city took to the streets on Tuesday, blockading the waste incinerator plant near their homes in protest over the plant's location, saying they weren't consulted before it was built three years ago.
Recently, news leaked out that Langfang officials had given the order to start operation at the plant, a Luofa resident surnamed Cui told RFA on Thursday.
"Local people stopped any vehicles from getting into the plant, because it is located just 300-400 meters from our homes," Cui said.
"In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the police moved in, and the villagers refused to move, so the police started to clear the area," she said.
"There were even worse clashes [later], after more than 30 waste trucks showed up at the plant," she said. "The villagers charged them, and the police started hitting them and pushing them back."
"More than 10 people were detained; I don't know where they took them, and more than 20 people were injured," Cui said.
A Luofa resident surnamed Wu said protesters had begun a sit-in late on Tuesday, clashing with police who showed up to move them.
He said elderly people were among those injured in the clashes.
"Things got out of hand and I think the government overreacted, sending in the security forces to beat and shove people, even old people," Wu said. "At least 20, maybe 30 people were injured."
According to Cui, the authorities had only told people they were building a power generation plant, not that the power would be produced from waste incineration.
"Eventually, we heard that this was going to be a waste incineration power plant, not a regular power plant, so of course we didn't want that," she said.
"Then the government just announced it would begin operations on July 1, and the waste would start coming in for burning, so the villagers got together on [Tuesday] and went to block it," Cui said, citing concerns over carcinogenic waste products of the process.
"Burning household waste could harm our health, because of the dioxins," she said.
Dioxins are highly toxic
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer.
Prevention or reduction of human exposure is best done through "strict control of industrial processes to reduce the formation of dioxins," the WHO advises on its website.
Cui said local residents had rejected a tentative offer of compensation.
"The government said they would pay us compensation, but what would they be compensating us for?" she said.
She said the dispute is far from over.
"This isn't finished yet, but there are a lot of police gathered over by the waste incinerator plant, and some of the villagers are close by," she said.
"If anyone speaks out, they detain them."
Calls to the Luofa village committee and the Luofa police station rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
An official who answered the phone at the local government offices declined to comment.
"Sorry, you'll have to get in touch with the propaganda department," the official said.
Calls to the Langfang municipal propaganda bureau rang unanswered.
Decades of rapid economic growth have left China with a rapidly growing waste disposal problem, but attempts to build incinerators have drawn widespread criticism amid growing awareness of the health hazards linked to industrial pollution.
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 of heavy metals from mining and industry on children's health.
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.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.