Petrochemical Plant In China Shut Down Due To Protests

Government officials in northeastern China have ordered a petrochemical plant in northeastern China to be closed after 12,000 people protested on Sunday by “strolling” through the city.

Located in Dalian, a port city in northeastern China, the Fujia plant manufactures paraxylene (PX), a toxic chemical used to produce polyester. It received much attention after heavy storms pounded away at the plant and storm waters destroyed and passed through dikes designed to protect the plant. The plant is located about 150 feet away from the dikes. Dalian residents were ordered to evacuate because of the possibility that PX was released from the plant.

In the following days after the storm, residents returned home. Plant authorities have claimed that the dikes have been repaired and no chemical leaks have been detected. However, this did not reassure Dalian residents and the public who are convinced that some amount of PX has leaked from the plant due to the storms.

Compared to other locations in China, authorities in Dalian responded much more quickly to the protests. Usually, the government stays away from making decisions amid protests because of the fear that the public would get their way every time they protest. However, protests are becoming increasingly violent, as shown in a protest that happened in Qianxi County on Saturday where residents injured more than 10 police officers and security officials and destroyed 15 cars in a demonstration against inspectors. These inspectors were accused of being overly oppressive and abusive despite being under trained for their jobs.

The protest also shows the ever increasing use of social media and the Internet to spread news quickly. A poster was posted and shared on the Internet, telling people to take a “stroll” at 10am on Sunday at People’s Square, near the Dalian government building. The poster stated, “We know that the typhoon caused some leak of poisonous chemicals from the PX project and we are all worrying about it, because it is a threat to our life. We hope that such a ‘stroll’ may push the government to do something as soon as possible to dispel our worries.”

The microblogging site Weibo and the instant messenger service QQ were also used to convince thousands of people to demonstrate and join the protest. Users posted photos on Weibo as the protest occurred, including one photo of a person wearing a gas mask and a shirt saying “Brother wants to live a few more years.”

However, government officials were just as quick to censor anything that encouraged the protests in Dalian. Web searches for “PX” and “Dalian” were blocked and redirects to a page saying “according to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results are not displayed.”

Officials not only shut down the Fujia plant but also promised to relocate the plant outside of the city. However, residents demand a definite timetable for the relocation of the plant.

In addition to the panic caused by the Fujia plant, other environmental problems have worried Dalian residents in the recent past. On July 16, a pipe connecting an oil tanker to a onshore storage facility at the PetroChina port exploded and caught on fire. Officials reported that 11,000 barrels of oil was released. However, with an investigation launched by Greenpeace, the actual amount of oil could be much greater. The tank, which was found empty, could have contained between 315,000 to 365,000 barrels of oil, including any oil that was burned off. Also, eyewitness accounts claim 11,000 barrels of oil is definitely downplaying the actual amount of oil spilled into the ocean. A business owner in Dalian said, “It couldn’t possibly have been 1,500 tons (11,000 barrels). The thick oil layer stretched as far as the eye could see. It was so thick that the most effective way of collecting it was to scoop it up in your bare arms and push it into the barrel.”

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