MAC: Mines and Communities

US companies "poisoned" Chinese children and water

Published by MAC on 2011-09-26
Source: BBC News, CNN, China Daily, Wall Street Journal

A fortnight ago, six lead smelters in Kangqiao town, Shanghai, were temporarily closed by the authorities after 25 children were found with excessive levels of the toxic metal in their blood streams.

One of the offending companies is New York-based battery manufacturer, Johnson Controls.

The company says it had already closed down its operations in Kangqiao, due to having met its production quota. However, Johnson Controls had already been found guilty of causing excessive lead emissions in June this year.

Then, on 20 September, New York-listed solar-panel maker, JinkoSolar, was forced to halt output from its factory in Zhejiang province.

Hundreds of local people had advanced on the plant (some of them smashing up its equipment), claiming their water was being poisoned and that effluents had caused incidences of leukemia.

The company admitted that fluoride * wastes had "washed" into a nearby river after being left uncovered in an open space. Jinko, too,  had already been fined for contaminating water supplies, back in April.

Chinese citizens' outrage at industrial pollution appears to be on the increase. (It is certainly being more widely reported by the domestic media than just a few years back ago).

In mid-August, two thousand residents of Guangdong province took to the streets, destroying around 10 "illegal" rare earth mines. See: Poisonous chromium is blighting 12 Chinese provinces

* Editorial note: Fluoride is derived from three metallic deposits: fluorite, fluorapatite and cryolite.


Jinko Solar Apologizes for Pollution

By Wayne Ma

Wall Street Journal

20 September 2011

The Chinese solar-panel maker, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, concluded that a buildup of solid waste, which contained fluoride, spilled into a nearby brook after torrential rains, Jinko officials said, according to the transcript of an interview with local television. The local environmental-protection bureau found fluoride levels in the brook that exceeded normal limits, the company added.

Riot police were brought in to remove protesters from outside the solar panel factory in Haining City
Riot police are brought in to remove protesters in Haining City
Source: AP / BBC News

"We're fully responsible for the legal consequences caused by the overlook in our management," the company said in the transcript. Jinko added that it has adopted several measures, including building more solid-waste storage, to restore the brook to its precontaminated state as early as possible.

Local residents complained last month about the deaths of a large number of fish in the brook, and Thursday more than 500 people started protesting outside the plant, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Authorities have detained 20 people for disturbing public order, sabotaging public property and theft.

Separately, a company spokeswoman said Monday that the solar plant has temporarily halted operations.

Pollution Protests shut China solar plant


20 September 2011

Hong Kong - The lights are out at Jinko Solar. After three days of sometimes violent protests, China closed one of the company's solar panel manufacturing plants.

The place: the town of Haining, about a two-hour drive southwest of Shanghai.

The reason: residents allege Jinko's plant caused a mass die-off of fish and a cluster of cancer cases, including leukemia, in the local populace.

The admission: Jinko Solar now says pollutants, with fluoride levels exceeding normal limits, may have washed from its factory into a nearby river because of improper storage.

Anger first erupted on Thursday when more than 500 people gathered outside Jinko's factory gates demanding answers. Some protesters broke into the company compound, overturning several cars and damaging buildings.

By Monday, local police said they had detained more than 20 people - some protesters for stealing and a handful of Jinko employees for destroying the camera of two local journalists - and local officials had forced the factory to go dark.

It appears that was a long time coming.

According to local environmental authorities, Jinko had failed an environmental standards test in April. It had also been fined RMB 470,000, or nearly $75,000. A test of the river further proved its water was polluted but Jinko's operations were not halted - until Monday.

Villager frustration would be understandable.

Along with that emotion on the streets, it also came to a boil online on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

A few messages convey the mood.

@yihaoyanzi wants authorities to be more responsive and responsible.

"Everyone is following the Jinko issue...can the progress and result of the incident, especially the final rectification plan be released in time? It's the era of internet. When the people have new demand for the government, the government should respond actively."

@buguoshiyizaidechengqiang had a simple message for the solar panel factory. "Get out of Haining, Jinko."

And @fendouhua anticipated Jinko Solar would hemorrhage losses because of its alleged environmental damage. "Jinko Energy itself will pay a heavy price for its pollution problem. If its stock price falls 7-8% everyday, even with 10 billion RMB capital, it won't last long. Therefore, the company should strictly obey relevant laws and regulations."

And that last message couldn't have been more appropriate. Since Thursday, when protests began, the share price of Jinko Solar's parent company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has fallen 13.2%.

Helena Hong in Beijing contributed to this report.

China solar panel factory shut after protests

BBC News - China

19 September 2011

A solar panel factory in eastern China has been shut down after protests by local residents over pollution fears.

Some 500 villagers staged a three-day protest following the death of large numbers of fish in a local river.

Some demonstrators broke into the plant in Zhejiang province, destroying offices and overturning company cars before being dispersed by riot police.

Tests on water samples showed high levels of fluoride, which can be toxic in high doses, officials said.

The BBC's Juliana Liu in Shanghai says the Chinese villagers see the plant's closure as a victory.

They accuse Jinko Solar, a Chinese company making solar panels for sale overseas, of dumping hazardous chemicals into the water supply, our correspondent says.

"We feel that it is socially responsible to close the factory first and to take corrective measures," company spokesman Thomas Jing told the BBC.

He said there had been accidental discharge into the surrounding area during a rainstorm at the end of August.

He said chemicals used at the factory had been stored in an open area rather than a warehouse, and that the covering had been ripped off during the unexpectedly harsh weather.

Mr Jing said the firm was investigating whether the fluoride was responsible for the death of the fish. A clean-up was also under way, he said.

The firm in Haining city is a subsidiary of a New York Exchange-listed Chinese solar company, JinkoSolar Holding Company.

Meanwhile, local government officials said there would be an overhaul of the production procedures at the plant involving the emission of waste gas and waste water.

"[We will] go all out to maintain stability and seriously deal with those who are suspected of violating laws in the incident in accordance with the law," Haining's city government said in a statement.

It also reported police had arrested a man for spreading "rumours" on the internet about cases of leukaemia and other cancers in local residents.

Chen Hongming, a deputy head of Haining's environmental protection bureau, was quoted by Chinese media as saying that the factory's waste disposal had failed pollution tests since April.

The environmental watchdog has warned the factory, but it had not effectively controlled the pollution, he added.

Government officials have been sent to the area to hear local residents' grievances, the China Daily reported.

This is the latest example of Chinese citizens being spurred to action over environmental worries. Last week, Shanghai halted production at two factories over worries about lead poisoning.

Last month, a chemical factory in the north-eastern city of Dalian was ordered to move after 12,000 residents took to the streets over pollution fears.

Plant: Closure due to quota, not pollution

By Shi Jing

China Daily

20 September 2011

SHANGHAI - A foreign-owned battery plant that was ordered to halt production after children living nearby were diagnosed with lead poisoning has denied emitting excessive levels of the heavy metal.

Six factories citywide were given temporary closure notices by the city government last Friday, including one in eastern Shanghai's Pudong New Area operated by Johnson Controls, a leading producer of storage batteries based in the United States.

The move followed a round of inspections prompted by reports that 25 youngsters in Kangqiao town were found to have excessive levels of lead in their blood.

Although authorities say some plants were targeted due to breaches in emissions standards, Johnson Controls - one of two factories on the list located close to Kangqiao - issued a statement saying it was included only because it has reached its lead production quota for the year.

The company also said it is conducting its own investigation to ascertain the source of the lead pollution.

"Recent media coverage about the suspension may have misled people into believing we produced excessive lead emissions, while we have actually halted production because we have exhausted the quota," said a company insider on Monday who did not want to be identified discussing the issue before the investigation is finalized.

"Not only have we set very strict standards for lead emissions, we also give regular medical checks to our workers," she said. "We also spend more than 3,000 yuan ($470) on health protection for each worker every month. Few of them have been found with excessive levels of lead in their blood."

Company officials met to discuss the suspension on Monday, she added, "as it has to do with the future of the 400 employees at the plant".

According to the Ministry of Health, a lead production plant needs to be 500 meters from the closest residential area. Johnson Controls' plant is 700 meters from the Kangqiao community.

China Daily was unable to obtain information on when the Shanghai plant reached its lead quota in previous years or whether it ceased production at that time.

Wei Huajun, director of pollution prevention for Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, said that Johnson Controls' plant was found to be producing excessive lead emissions in June, although he explained that was not the reason behind Friday's closure.

"We immediately asked the plant to rectify its production procedures (in June) and they did make some changes in response," he said. "They halted production recently because they reached their lead quota for this year."

Xinming Auto Accessories, which sits alongside Johnson Controls on the Pudong Kangqiao Industrial Zone, also received the government's halt order on Friday. This, Wei said, was because it has been using lead in its production illegally.

"This company did not obtain a permit from the bureau to use lead," he added.

A total of 12 children had to be admitted to Xinhua Hospital for treatment last week. As of Monday, six had been discharged.

"The lead levels of six of the children were reduced by 30 to 50 percent," said doctor Yan Chonghuai. "They will continue to take nutrition pills until a second medical check in a month."

He explained that summer is a peak time for lead poisoning and said cases can be prevented by people washing their hands frequently and thoroughly before meals.

"Children are more vulnerable to the impact of lead," he added. "A child will be poisoned if he or she has 100 micrograms of lead in their blood, while for adults it's 400 micrograms. Children can suffer from mental trauma or anemia."

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