MAC: Mines and Communities

China Update

Published by MAC on 2006-10-20

China Update

20th October 2006

Forced-labour prisoners die in coal mine accident

Thirteen miners who died in a coal mine accident in southwestern China were forced-labour prisoners, a German news agency and a human rights group reported.

The 13 miners died and seven others were injured after a gas explosion occurred on 6 October at the Zhongpingtong mine of Furong Coal Mine in Yibin city, Sichuan province, according to a report on the website of the State Administration of Work Safety.

An official at the coal mine confirmed that all the workers at the mine were prisoners, reported Deutsche Press-Agentur. "Not only the prisoners, the guards also work underground," the official told the German news agency.

The Zhongpingtong mine was under the supervision of the Chuan Nan (Southern Sichuan) Prison, reported the news agency citing information from the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

The mine employs an estimated 3,000 prisoners, with about 100,000 unpaid prisoners working "dangerous" coal mines across China, the centre said.

Under China's "re-education through labour" concept, most citizens confined to prisons and labour camps are required to work.

The victims' families have still received no compensation after mine managers refused to meet their demand for 200,000 yuan (US$25,000) each, reported the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

The mine had a designed annual capacity of 1.2 million tons, according to the report of the State Administration of Work Safety. State media reported that nine people were killed in a previous accident at the same mine in December 2001.

About 6,000 miners were killed in coal mine accidents last year, according to official figures. But the real figure should be as high as 20,000, according to CLB sources.

Many accidents occur because of out-of-date equipment, illegal mining as well as poor safety systems and supervision. The failure of implementation of coal mine safety regulations in local governments is also the major reason for so many accidents.

Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur (17 October 2006), China Labour Bulletin 18 October 2006

China City Shuts 43 Cement Factories for Pollution

PlanetArk CHINA

20th October 2006

DONGGUAN, China - A city in China's booming southern province of Guangdong has closed 43 cement factories for pollution, a vice-mayor said on Thursday, a move that was in line with a government campaign to cool the overheating economy.

Three other cement factories in Dongguan, a haven for Taiwan investors, were still operating but were environmentally friendly, Dongguan Vice-Mayor Zhou Zhina said, adding that none of the 43 was foreign invested and that all have been compensated.

"Pollution from cement factories is pretty severe and they are not very safe," Zhou said in an interview with Reuters and a small group of foreign media.

"For the sake of bringing Dongguan's environmental protection up a step, we closed the 43 cement factories" over the past two years, Zhou said.

The central government is also trying to temper the pace of its economic rise with a focus on balanced growth and greater respect for the environment.

The closures of the cement plants were in line with a central government move to cool the economy by curbing investment and bank lending which have spawned production overcapacity. Gross domestic product in the first nine months grew 10.7 percent from a year earlier.

Economists say the central government has had difficulty reining in provincial governments eager for breakneck growth, but Guangdong officials appear to be toeing the central government line after Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu was sacked last month for corruption after defying the central government's macroeconomic measures.

Hong Kong's Beijing-funded Wen Wei Po newspaper said Dongguan authorities also closed down 206 brick factories and 90 quarries, and pledged to spend 21.193 billion yuan (US$2.65 billion) to curb pollution.

Sulphur dioxide emitted by cement factories in Dongguan accounted for about 10 percent of the city's total sulphur dioxide emission, the daily said.

China has set a goal of cutting pollution output by 10 percent, adjusted for economic growth, over the next five years.

But China's official environmental monitor State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) found that sulphur dioxide emissions had grown 5.8 percent in the first six months of this year, the Economic Daily reported, quoting data from 17 provinces.

China's key measure of water pollution -- "chemical oxygen demand" or COD -- had risen 4.2 percent compared with the same period last year, the newspaper said.

SEPA chief Zhou Shengxian blamed soaring energy consumption, unbridled construction investment and spotty enforcement of environmental due diligence for the emissions increases, the daily said.

On Wednesday, state media cited China's State Oceanic Administration as saying the Bohai Sea, the body of water between China and the Korean peninsula, was so polluted it would "die" within 10 years. (Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Benjamin Kang Lim)

Story by John Ruwitch


China reports another "World's worst" polluted place

Asia's largest zinc-copper-gold processing plant, at Huludao on the Liaoning Peninsula , is helping destroy China's Bohai sea, according to an article from the Interfax China news service (Week ending October 20 2006). Heavy metal concentrations are officially reported as 2,000 times above acceptable levels. "China's Bohai may become "dead sea" within ten years, experts warn."

In 2001, central government agencies with the help of four provincial governments launched the so-called "Blue Sea Action Initiatives" in a bid to clean offshore seawaters in the Bohai area. With a projected total investment of RMB 55.5 bln (USD 7 bln), the government hoped to turn Bohai Sea into a clean, blue sea within 15 years. "However, five years after the "Blue Sea Action Initiatives" were launched, the situation has continued to deteriorate.

According to China's National Oceanic Administration, from 2001 through 2005, the polluted surface area in Bohai was between 19,000 and 30,000 sq km, about 24%-41% of the total.

Official statistics also show that the most prominent source of seawater pollution comes from onshore, accounting for around 87.5% of the pollution. There are 5.68 bln tons of polluted water discharged into the Bohai Sea each year, about 17.9% of the country's total. On the other hand, 2.16 mln tons of solid waste is dumped into the area, about 8.5% of the country's total.

Government monitoring has revealed that in China rivers and sea areas, about 84% of wastewater discharged does not meet the minimal standards stipulated by the environmental authorities. In Bohai area more than 90% fails to meet the requirements.

The Bohai Sea is now arguably the most polluted seawater on China's long coast. "In terms of the ratio of polluted surface area, Boha area is the highest in China's seashores," according to Han Gencheng of the National Oceanic Environmental Suyrveillance Center.

China does have environmental laws and ocean environmental protection laws similar to those in developed countries. "However, these laws are only frameworks," Han said. "We don't have specific regulations to follow, and we don't have a powerful enforcement department."

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