Chinese Newspapers Put Spotlight on Polluters
The party member had no documentation to back up his charge that local officials participated financially in the three factories. But regarding the connection between pollution and cancer, he said, he and several comrades carried out a house-to-house survey of the three neighborhoods closest to the factories and found that Gu's conclusions were accurate.
"That was true, what he said," the party activist said.
He said the survey found that 29 people in the last four years, ranging in age from 30 to 83, have come down with some form of cancer, including one of his relatives. That was in line with Gu's estimate that more than two-thirds of recent deaths in that part of Yangqiao were caused by cancer, three times the national average of a little more than 20 percent.
Zhou said his records show that the village has registered five cancer patients, two of whom have died, since March 2003, when two of the three plants opened.
Whatever the accuracy of the unscientific survey and Gu's article, the county government closed two of Yangqiao's factories after the article attracted national attention. Zhou said the closure was ordered because of panic among the villagers, not scientific proof that the plants were polluting dangerously.
The third plant, the Shuangning Agro-Chemical Co., has continued to operate, employing about 180 people in what its managers portray as pollution-free production of imidacloprid, an agricultural pesticide.
Shuangning was started by the township government about 20 years ago. Since then, 95 percent of its capital has been acquired by private investors, according to Zhang Baoyin, the manager and a major shareholder. The company paid more than $130,000 in taxes last year, making it one of Gu He township's top 15 sources of revenue, he said.
Ma Da, a Shuangning economist, escorted a reporter around the plant's purification basins, where he said wastes are taken out of the water before it is released back into village waterways. Ma and other employees pointed to ducks paddling around a canal near the factory as an indication of how clean the water is.
"Look, a wild one," an employee shouted as a gray duck glided over to the brood of white ducks.
The party veteran and his comrades said the Shuangning plant has been a major source of pollution for years. But Zhang said the sources of Yangqiao's pollution were the two other plants, which sit just down the 50-foot-wide canal.
The larger one was started by two businessmen in cooperation with the township government, Zhang said, but the other's origins were unclear. Both operated with skeleton staffs of mostly migrant workers and without proper permits, refusing to allow anyone local to enter, he said. Nobody here knew for sure what they produced.
The party activist said villagers believed the bigger of the two manufactured sulfuric acid, a powerful oxidizing agent. Zhang said he was told it made ingredients for shampoo. Some villagers told a South China Morning Post reporter they had heard it made plastic and rubber material for manufacturing shoes.
As for the smaller one, villagers told Gu they saw truckloads of something go in but rarely saw anything come out except yellowish waste water. And there were foul odors.
Since the closures earlier this month, that has stopped. The air around Yangqiao has started to smell fresh again and villagers report that the water seems cleaner.
But the uproar continues to hurt farmers, who said people from nearby towns have stopped buying their vegetables. And merchants have stopped coming around to buy dogs for restaurants in Guangzhou, a large city southwest of here that is renowned for its omnivorous appetite.
Researcher Zhang Jing contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company