By Qiao Long, Radio Free Asia
Residents of the central Chinese province of Henan are stepping up pressure on local authorities over pollution from a chemical plant near their homes after hundreds of people gathered outside government offices in protest over “foul smells” in their neighborhood.
The chemical plant in Henan’s Huojia county, near Xinxiang city, has been churning out “stinking gases” for years, prompting mounting anger among the local population, residents said on Wednesday.
“It is polluting the air. You can [smell it],” one resident said.
A Huojia resident surnamed Zhang said a number of chemical plants are likely responsible for the odors, which prompted a demonstration outside the Huojia county government headquarters on Tuesday.
“Stinking gases have been coming from there for years now, and some of the local people went to the county government to kick up a fuss,” Zhang said.
“No one who lives in the county’s town area wants this,” he said.
One resident who joined the protest on Tuesday said local people had held up banners outside the gates of the government building complaining about the smell, blocking the street outside.
“Some of the homeowners got a bit excited and were taken away by police,” the resident, who declined to give his name, said.
“I don’t know exactly how many, nor for how long, nor whether they have since been released,” he said.
He said local online chatrooms have been silent on the topic since Tuesday’s protest.
“No one’s saying anything on my QQ group now. They are being put under pressure, so they won’t speak out.”
Meanwhile, some residents have singled out liquefied gas company Languang, saying it is located in a densely populated area, near a kindergarten.
“This company, Languang Gas, supplies Jinan city with liquefied natural gas (LNG),” a resident living near the gas plant told RFA.
“If the gas were to explode, the consequences would be terrible, with a population of around 100,000 people living all around it,” he said.
He said the whole of Huojia county has suffered from pollution and “foul smells,” with emissions often sent out by night to avoid detection.
“There’s a refinery which was ordered to relocate, but it still hasn’t done so,” the resident said. “Now there’s this Languang company opening up as well.”
Chemical companies operating in and around Huojia county include Zhongxin Chemicals and Qishi Chemicals, both affiliated with Henan coal producer Yongmei Industries, one of China’s top 500 enterprises, residents told RFA.
An official who answered the phone at the Huojia county government offices on Wednesday said the government had already ordered Yongmei’s Qishi plant to shut down operations.
“That’s right, a directive was issued from a higher level of government,” the official said. “[The factory] just began operating without any approval.”
“[It belongs to] Yongmei,” the official said.
Asked if further demonstrations were taking place on Wednesday, the official said: “Yes, but there aren’t many [people there today].”
Social media posts from local residents said the smells are so bad that people find it hard to be at home during the day.
“I hope the relevant departments can come to a reasonable solution,” microblogger @aiqinhai wrote.
According to another poster from the same county, pollution from chemical plants in the area has affected the health of hundreds of thousands of people living there.
“I hope our central leadership will take note,” the user tweeted.
Meanwhile, local media appeared reluctant to touch the story, residents said.
“There have been no reports about this on [local] television or in the newspapers,” Zhang said on Wednesday.
“We are just ordinary people, and we can’t tell them what to do … This is a huge factory; how can we tell them to relocate?”
The ruling Chinese Communist Party announced a five-year action plan on air pollution at the end of last year, which aims to slash the country’s reliance on coal, and shutter polluting enterprises.
Beijing also removed limits on the amounts polluters can be forced to pay in fines.
Campaigners say that China already has an exemplary set of environmental protection laws, but that close ties between business and officials mean that it is rarely enforced at a local level.
Grassroots environmental protests and outspoken online campaigns are becoming increasingly common as a result.
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