Thousands Protest High Cancer Rates Linked to Pollution in China's Tianjin

Thousands Protest High Cancer Rates Linked to Pollution in China's Tianjin Residents of Tianjin's Gegu township march to protest pollution from local steel factory, May 26, 2015.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in a township near the northern Chinese city of Tianjin in recent days in protest at alleged carcinogenic pollution from a nearby iron and steel plant, residents said on Wednesday.

The protests continued on Wednesday amid a strong security presence outside the gates of the Rongcheng Iron and Steel plant in Tianjin's Gegu township after several thousand angry local residents clashed with police on Tuesday.

"They have sent in a lot of security forces to our neighborhood, who injured some of the local people because they were protesting," a Gegu resident surnamed Cheng told RFA.

"Two people were beaten up in clashes that started after a kid running through the factory gates fell and got hurt," he said. "The police came running up and there was a fight and somebody got a bone broken, and they're now in hospital."

A local resident surnamed Xue said around half the township's population of some 8,000 people had turned out in recent days to protest.

"This has been going on for several days, but not one official has come out to deal with this matter on behalf of local people," Xue said.

"We want to live, and yet our children and grandchildren have been affected by pollution," he said.

'Poisonous smell'

"There is pollution in the air and pollution in the ground ... The iron and steel plant is too close to our homes," Xue said.

"There is a horrible smell coming out of it which is probably poisonous," he said, adding: "We have a cancer rate of around 20 percent here."

He said he had been told the figure by doctors at the Tianjin Tumor Hospital, one of the leading cancer hospitals in China.

"We all go there for treatment, and there is a particular tumor that they say comes from [Gegu]," Xue said.

Another Gegu resident, who declined to be named, said the plant had been in operation for more than 20 years.

"Every household has somebody in it who has cancer now," the resident said.

"But the Rongcheng plant is a big taxpayer, so the government is supporting it ... everyone with any money, senior management and officials, have all left town," he said.

"The only people left here are farmers, and we can't leave here. Where would we get the money to buy a place to live?"

Repeated complaints

A protester surnamed Zhang said the Rongcheng plant had had a severe impact on the local environment, but that nothing had been done in spite of repeated complaints from local people.

"There has been a lot of smoke emitted recently that smells very strongly of gas, and it has made local people very angry," Zhang said.

"The government hasn't responded to the local people, and hasn't paid any attention to their requests," she said.

"All we are doing is calling on them; nothing has got heated or out of hand."

She said the Rongcheng plant is still under normal operation, in spite of the protest.

"There is still smoke wafting out over the residential area," Zhang said. "I live very close to the the iron and steel plant, and I smell this acrid smell every day."

"Everyone wants better air quality. There is a primary school nearby and the smell is very strong there, too," she said.

"People want to know what it's going to take to get a better environment."

An employee who answered the phone at the Rongcheng plant on Wednesday declined to comment on the allegations.

"It's not convenient for me to talk about this, sorry," the employee said.

Government 'investigating'

Li Zhanpeng, an official who answered the phone at the Gegu township government, said local leaders were currently in a meeting to manage the situation.

"The government is investigating this matter, and we are currently in a meeting, so you'll have to contact us later," Li said.

The government on Tuesday issued an open letter to local residents pledging to set up a task force to look into the pollution allegations.

"We hope that local people will remain within the limits of the law, or the police will deal with them according to law," the letter warned.

China has an impressive set of environmental legislation, but campaigners say local vested interests ensure that it is rarely enforced on the ground.

Decades of rapid economic growth have led to skyrocketing pollution levels in China's air, water and soil, sparking a huge increase in mass environmental protests across the country.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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