Late last month, angry demonstrators in Qidong, a port city near Shanghai, protested against plans for a waste discharge pipeline. The project was designed to discharge waste water from a paper mill in nearby Nantong city into the sea.
In reaction, Ding Dawei, Party chief of Nantong, which administers Qidong, said on July 28 that the waste water pipeline project will be canceled.
The proposed project would discharge 150,000 tons of waste water everyday into the Tanglu Port, one of the city’s fishing harbors about 100 kilometers from the Qingcaosha Reservoir, a source of Shanghai’s drinking water.
Many local residents complained that they had not been consulted about the pipeline project, and worried that it would affect their water supply. Another concern was that waste water discharged into the sea would adversely affect the local fish export business.
Oji Paper Group, a Japanese company that owns the paper mill in Nantong, denied that the pipeline would cause pollution. “Our factory in Nantong adopts very strict water quality management measures. We release water after purification, and the water meets national standards,” according to a statement posted on Oji Paper’s Chinese website.
Similar protests over environmental concerns have taken place in multiple cities across China in recent years. Early in July, several thousand protesters from Shifang, Sichuan Province, forced the local government to abandon plans to build a molybdenum copper plant after local residents demonstrated, believing that the waste would contaminate the water supply and pollute the air.
Officials in Shifang posted a statement on the city’s weibo, a micro blogging site similar to Twitter, to announce the cancellation of the project.
Sichuan Hongda, the company building the plant, had planned to invest over 10 billion yuan, or $1.6 billion in the project. They believe that their plant would have boosted the city’s economy and created over 3,000 jobs to aid recovery from the 2008 earthquake.
Last year, the authorities in the northern city of Dalian were forced to call off the construction of a petrochemical plant after demonstrators said it threatened public health.
About 12,000 residents took part in the protest, including many children. People marched under such banners as “I love Dalian and reject poison” and “Give me back my home and garden!”
These recent demonstrations illustrate the public’s concerns over environmental safety. People have become more outspoken against industrial plants that cause local pollution.
In all these cases, local governments had failed to release enough information about the projects before construction began, resulting in a lack of understanding and support.
The growth of the internet and microblogs has made it easier for people to communicate and to rally support for popular causes.
It is remarkable that in all these cases, the local authorities have acted promptly to address the public’s concerns and abandoned the projects that were opposed by their constituencies – a somewhat new and welcoming change in government’s approach in dealing with public protests.