Up to 10,000 Chinese villagers have clashed with police in eastern China in the latest incident in a wave of social unrest caused by fears over industrial pollution.
The riot in the eastern coastal province of Fujian comes a week after two high-profile cases of lead poisoning involving more than 2,100 children raised public concerns over the environmental cost of China’s
headlong rush for economic growth.
More than 2,000 riot police were called to restore order on Monday after initially peaceful demonstrations turned violent when residents from Fengwei town in Fujian accused local officials of ignoring their
complaints about the stench coming from a broken-down water treatment works.
At least 10 people were injured in a riot in the early hours of Tuesday morning as two police cars were smashed and several officials and plant workers taken hostage, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
A villager contacted by The Daily Telegraph said that local residents blamed the plant, which opened in 2007, for “turning the sea dark” and “causing cancer”.
The woman, who asked only to be identified as Ms Liu for fear of reprisals by local officials, said that 19 villagers under the age of 40 had unexplained cancers and that the once-prosperous area that was home
to well-paid merchant seamen had been rendered all but uninhabitable by the smell.
Simmering disgruntlement among the villagers turned to outright violence after rumours circulated that the plant was pumping untreated effluent from a leather tannery upstream as well as sewage.
“The protestors found an agreement signed between the leather factory and the sewage works, which proved the sewage works did not serve only for domestic wastes disposal purpose as the government claimed,” Ms Liu said.
The local government denies the villagers’ claims, issuing a statement saying that the effluent from the plant conformed to environmental standards, but acknowledging that the plant had broken down and that
measures were being taken to repair it.
Senior officials had been sent to the area “to strive for the understanding and support from the public” according to the Quanzhou Evening News, a local newspaper, however villagers said they remained
deeply distrustful of the local government.
Fujian, on China’s southeastern coast, is striving to become China’s next big greenfield refinery sites and is currently testing a £3.5bn petrochemicals refinery in Quanzhou which is a joint venture between
Sinopec, the Chinese oil giant and Exxon Mobil and Saudi Aramco.