07/28/2010, 00.00
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In one year environmental accidents double in China

Contrast between industry's needs and those for environmental protection increases. People take to the streets in greater numbers against polluting activities. Experts: serious pollution destabilizing society.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - About 2 thousand angry rural people blocked the highway bridge that passes near Nangang (Shucheng County, Anhui), in July 24 to protest against a new landfill that the municipality wants to place upstream of a river which provides drinking water. Hundreds of police intervened resulting in violent clashes. In China's booming economy development takes pride of place over respect for the environment and health of the population, who are now in open and violent struggle to defend basic rights like drinking water and clean air.

The Nangang government today assured that it has abandoned the controversial project, which threatened the drinking water of over 50 thousand inhabitants along the river. After the announcement the protests were called off.

Meanwhile, photographs of protests and clashes are circulating the web, of protesters with bitterly ironic placards that state " We would rather fight to the death than be poisoned to death," We would rather fight to the death than be poisoned to death " and "Please do not harm the residents of Nangang”. Other photos show clashes with police armed with truncheons and pepper spray. There are women and elderly who are kneeling, begging the government to abandon the project, at least 2 of them were then hit by the police. Eyewitnesses told the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy that the police even beat up small children.

Beijing wants to adopt specific pollution control measures but is afraid to decrease industry: for example, the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute, a public consultation body of, has warned that new environmental protection measures will increase the cost of manufactured metallurgical goods by at least 10%. Having founded the development on the indiscriminate exploitation of the environment and migrants, now Beijing has difficulty reconciling the inevitable environmental needs with the continuation of rapid economic growth.

But experts caution that environmental damage in the country is growing in quantity and severity. In the 1st half of 2010, environmental incidents increased by 98.1% compared to 2009 and there were some real disasters.

In July alone, Zijin Mining Group Co., a leading gold and copper mining company, poured over 9100 cubic meters of harmful waste into the river Ting, killing more than 2,300 tonnes of fish and destroying the fishing industry in the area. On July 16, the explosion of two pipes and a tank of oil at sea in the a major oil port in Dalian, caused the loss of 1,500 tonnes of crude oil. The port was closed for several days.

Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public Environmental Affairs, told Bloomberg that " if China doesn’t address the environmental issues when the economy is growing fast, it might become a destabilizing factor in the society". "The Chinese public is increasingly aware and vocal about the heavy metal pollution brought on by refineries and smelters.".  

Anche il ministro per l’Ambiente riconosce che “c’è conflitto tra un rapido sviluppo economico e la capacità dell’ambiente di assorbire” gli effetti. Una sua indagine ha accertato che nel 2009 sono finiti nella acque 58,9 miliardi di tonnellate di rifiuti liquidi, contenenti petrolio, azoto e manganese, circa il 3% in più del 2008.

Even the Minister for the Environment recognizes that " Fast economic development is leading to increasing conflicts with the capacity of the environment to absorb " the effects. Its inquiry found that in 2009 58.9 billion tons of liquid wastes containing oil, nitrogen and manganese was dumped in the water system, about 3% more than in 2008.

There is also controversy at the absence of contingency plans in case of environmental disasters. In Dalian, about 8 thousand public employees and 37 thousand volunteers, especially local fishermen scooped up the crude oil without protection, without masks against the noxious fumes and no gloves to protect from benzene that penetrates the skin and is harmful to the digestive system. They collected the oil with pieces of cloth, recovered with sticks and squeezed it into buckets with their bare hands.

Zhong Yu, coordinator of Greenpeace China, praised the army of volunteers who cleaned the sea of oil;" They have been working tirelessly for more than a week without receiving any apology or compensation from the oil companies. They were not given, or even advised to wear, carbonic masks from the government, which are cheap and available anywhere”. "It's just pathetic."

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