MAC: Mines and Communities

China Province May Close Down Industrial Polluters

Published by MAC on 2006-03-07

China Province May Close Down Industrial Polluters


7th March 2006

The Chinese province of Hunan, home to China's largest zinc smelter, is considering closing heavy industrial plants that pollute, a senior government official said on Monday.

Hunan, where former leader Mao Zedong was born, has rich deposits of lead and zinc. Smelters line the same rivers that provide drinking water for millions in the province.

The southern province has invested in environmental monitoring and began last winter to close small plants processing indium from waste ores in Zhuzhou and Xiangtan. Nevertheless, years of unrestricted dumping of poisonous industrial waste have taken their toll.

"We're trying a scientific approach to development to give all the people a good living environment, clean water and good air," Hunan's Communist Party secretary Zhang Chunxian, told reporters on the sidelines of the annual meeting of parliament.

The provincial authorities are looking at polluting industries and working out what action to take, he added.

"We are investigating, and could close, any company that operates outside the scope of the law," said Zhang, a former transport minister. "Which companies are going to be targetted, I cannot say for sure."

But one delegate said that the closure of the Zhuzhou smelter, China's largest by zinc output last year, had been brought up during a provincial government meeting prior to the national gathering of parliament being held in Beijing this week.

"The Zhuzhou smelter could be closed, and a lot of other industries too. Not closing it is bad for everything down river," Ren Yuqi, a delegate from the city of Xiangtan, also in Hunan, told reporters.

In January, dredging of the Xiang river in Zhuzhou released the metallic element cadmium into the water, prompting the government to demand all plants dumping cadmium to stop production.

Cadmium, a metallic element widely used in batteries, can cause liver and kidney damage and lead to bone diseases. Compounds containing cadmium are also carcinogenic.

The Xiang river also carries away waste-water from paper mills, lead and indium smelters, though many of these have already been closed. Indium is used to make an oxide to coat liquid-crystal displays.


Despite the delegate's comments on the Zhuzhou plant, a smelter official told Reuters there had been no discussion of closure, and that the business had already installed environmentally compliant equipment.

"Hunan Province can't close us, we are too important to the economy," said Wang Jianjun, head of international trade at Hunan Zhuye Torch Metals Co. Ltd., the company's listed arm.

China's burgeoning metals industry is facing increased policing of air and water pollution, which authorities hope will help push the sector toward consolidation and better technology.

River pollution is a sensitive topic in China, after an accident at a chemical plant in the Northeast last year sent a toxic benzene slick along a river that supplied drinking water to millions of Chinese and Russians.

The government is trying to temper the pace of its economic rise with a focus on balanced growth and greater respect for the environment, a key element of development plans laid out by Premier Wen Jiabao before parliament on Sunday.

Environmental officials say they hope performance targets for "Green GDP" - which accounts for the damage caused by industrial development - will help steer local officials away from approving every project that promises to lift the local economy.

But consistent enforcement, and actually using fines to help mitigate the damage caused, are also necessary for China to make environmental progress, they say.

Story by Ben Blanchard and Lucy Hornby


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