06/05/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing uncertain between polluting industries and people’s health

In Wuxi provincial authorities tell local government to clean up the contaminated water supply. In Xiamen a tug-of-war between a chemical company and residents continues. People are afraid that once their protest action is over industrial interests will prevail. Communist Party warns that demonstrations are “subversive”.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – China is caught between the interests of industry and its citizens’ right to a decent health. In Xiamen the authorities insist on building a polluting factory. In Wuxi local authorities have been harshly criticised for pollution in Tai lake. In both cases the outcome remains uncertain.

In Wuxi (Jiangsu) the Communist Party has admitted in an article published in the People’s Daily that poor water quality is the result of industrial pollution and not the by-product of natural algae growth as claimed by local authorities.

Since may 29 Tai Lake and the rivers that flow out of it have been invaded by algae. This has contaminated the water supply of some five million people living in the area. The water itself has turned yellow and has become foul-smelling.

The paper blames unscrupulous businesses, “but also those officials tolerating polluting plants” echoing Nanjing University environment professor Zuo Yuhui who said the algal bloom was “mainly due to human activities.”

"Without pollution from human activities, there wouldn't be so much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, and waterways wouldn't have excessive nutrients. Therefore, blue-green algae wouldn't grow so rampantly," the paper quoted Professor Zuo as saying.

Lu Jianjian, of the East China Normal University, said in the People's Daily article that blue-green algae could become toxic and pose a threat to human health if people ingested contaminated seafood.

This has led Jiangsu provincial leaders to order Wuxi authorities to take action to prevent pollution and ensure that local businesses were operating within pollution limits.

On Sunday Wuxi mayor Mao Xiaoping claimed that the tap water had “almost” reached standard quality levels and the odour in the water had been “almost completely” eliminated.

But experts cited in the People's Daily article said that the algal bloom will probably last months if conditions remained the same in Tai Lake.

The Wuxi government embarked on an environmental protection campaign yesterday, including calling on businesses to cut waste emissions, but it does not contain any substantial commitments or sanctions.

In Xiamen (Fujian) company officials want to resume construction of a p-Xylene producing plant despite local popular opposition that took the form of more than a million text-messages sent last week via cellphone, in particular to public officials, explaining that the chemical substance was highly carcinogenic.

Similarly, messages warned that given the local wind patterns, smoke emissions from the plant would inevitably cause irreparable damages to residents and affect farming.

Last week, the government announced a temporary halt to the unpopular project. Set to cost 10.8 billion yuan, the plant is designed to produce 800,000 tonnes of hazardous p-Xylene a year.

Company spokesman Zhang Zuan said his boss was in emergency meetings with officials.

Over the week-end Xiamen residents staged a public protest in the streets of the city, but stayed away yesterday to avoid charges that they were commemorating the 18th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The local Communist Party daily Xiamen Daily for its part warned that even peaceful demonstrations were illegal and would be considered “subversive”.

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