March 8, 2010 - March 11, the Center for Legal Aid for Pollution Victims sent lawyers Dai Renhui and Liu Jinmei to investigate a case in Chaoyang, Liaoning. Local residents there were suing the Jianping Dafeng Corn Products Company for air and water pollution.
After arriving, the two lawyers discussed the case in detail with the plaintiffs and came to understand the following: 1. The situation surrounding two accidental leaks, after which groups of students were hospitalized; 2. the actual harm done to locals; 3. the facts regarding Dafeng Corn Products Co.s daily manufacturing operations and pollution; and 4. the local government and relevant departments attitude towards the incident. They also collected the relevant evidence, including documentation from plaintiffs¡¯ doctors visits, discussion of the accidental leaks by those responsible, and reports on investigation of water and air quality, etc.
The basic facts of the case are as follows: In 2007, the Jianping Dafeng Corn Products Co. came to Jianping county, where it formally began production in April of 2008. The factory primarily produces furfural, and production volume reaches 3000 tons. Bordering the factory are the village and a school, with the school located approximately 1000 meters to its south.
The Haitang River passes nearby, flowing from north to southwest. In fact, the factory disposes of its waste very near the Haitang River. Production at the factory pollutes the water and produces a pungent-smelling, thick, black smoke. Soon after beginning production, the factory¡¯s emissions began to impact the health of the nearby villagers and students. At the end of May, over ten students were poisoned. In June, 60 or 70 more students became ill. Again, on October 17, 2008, more students were poisoned. In just 10 days time, over 300 people became ill. Symptoms included dizziness, dry cough, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and overall fatigue. Eventually, the incident was investigated by experts from the provincial health inspection office. They determined drinking water to be the culprit.
The same month, a few kids in the vicinity of the nursery school started to show similar symptoms. Some were hospitalized. Adult residents living near the factory also started to show symptoms. In severe cases, they got sick several times in the 6-month period from April to October.
Besides talking with the pollution victims, the lawyers investigating also interviewed the school headmaster and people familiar with furfural production and manufacturing. However, moving the case forward was made difficult by the fact that the government and other relevant departments believed the cause of the illnesses to be poisoning from non-potable water. Presently, the Center is actively promoting the case, in hopes that it can mitigate the harm to the locals and protect their rights and interests.
Addendum: Information regarding furfural (Health Risk)
- Ways in which heath risks associated with furfural pollution can be transmitted: inhaled, consumed, or absorbed through the skin.
- Harmful health effects of furfural pollution: Its steam is highly irritating and can have anesthetic effect. Breathing it in or absorbing it through the skin can result in poisoning, which can manifest itself in any of the following ways, including respiratory tract irritation, pulmonary edema, liver damage, damage to the central nervous system, paralysis of the respiratory center, and even death.