Severe strontium carbonate pollution has led constant, vocal complaints by the ordinary people of Anju.
Luo Liquan: When it does not rain for a few days, the leaves of the vegetables¡well, they become almost back, covered with carbon acid dust. Peaceful Life (Anju) Town is no longer a peaceful place to live, because illness is so widespread.
Zimo: What kind of illness?
Luo Liquan: All kinds of cancers, lung cancers, esophageal cancers, also liver cancer; liver cancers and lung cancers are the most common.
After six lawsuits, five of which failed, the ten-years long struggle for the Tongliang Water Pollution case continues
Luo Liquan: From personal experience I have learned that winning our lawsuit is more difficult than a monk seeking to reach paradise.
Zimo: The western Chongqing region, from Yongchuan to Tongliang Baiyue Mountain is known to be rich in lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli is one of the major raw materials from which strontium is extracted and as one of the two sites of lapis lazuli in China, the western Chongqing region saw the introduction and development of many strontium carbonate production enterprises. While these enterprises stimulated local economic development, they also brought ecological disaster: They contaminated underground water, killing off vast swathes of vegetation, repeatedly poisoning fishermen¡¯s¡¯ catches, leading to a persistently high degrees of serious illness among the local population. A few days ago, we interviewed a simple peasant from west Chongqing, who told us his long and difficult struggle with pollution over the past 10 years.
Commentary: This series of pictures have been taken in the county of Tongliang, 100 km Northwest of Chongqing, by a 59 years old local peasant called Luo liquan. Luo Liquan told us that 10 years ago, his village was not like this at all. According to the villagers, it is the arrival of so many strontium carbonate factories that changed the color of the sky and rivers. Moreover, the number of local people falling sick has increased sharply so that it has become a ¡°cancer village¡±.
Zimo: When did the cancer become so noticeable and so widespread in the local area?
Luo Liquan: This is how we came to realize the existence of cancer. Where we live, we have a person amongst us¡ a person so-called¡ in our village we call him ¡°Mister.¡±¡. after each person¡¯s death, you go and ask him to organize the burial ceremony. In our town, there is Mr.¡, let¡¯s call him Ceng Hegui, he said that many of the people we were burying, he noticed that many of these people we buried had died of cancer, and he did not know what was the cause.
Zimo: What kind of cancers?
Luo Liquan: All kinds of cancers, lungs cancers, esophageal cancers, also liver cancers, mostly liver and lung cancers.
Commentary: Luo Liquan has another identity; he belongs to an environmental NGO called the ¡°Chongqing Green Volunteer Association¡±. They visited many farmers in the countryside to investigate this issue.
Villager A: In Mr Yang¡¯s family, 3 brothers died of cancer
Villager B: In our production team, many people died.
Commentary: Luo Liquan¡¯s camera also recorded some of these cancer patients, some of which have since passed away. Luo Liquan told us, within these past 10 years, the cancer rate in his hometown has multiplied by over a thousand, from 1 in a thousand to the current 4-5 in a hundred. Moreover, the age of cancer patients is becoming younger and younger. Cancers have even appeared among a large number of young adults and children.
Luo Liquan: The cancers affect everybody, children, old people, middle-aged people. In our village, several young people developed leukemia, and also some children developed leukemia, so these cancers, they are indifferent to age.
Zimo: How can you be sure that this sudden increase in the cancer rate is necessarily related to this sulfuric acid plant?
Luo liquan: The administration did not authorize experts and medical institutions to examine this, but we, the ordinary people, all think this and local doctors also all think this. I also wrote letters to this¡ not from Chengdu, in Sichuan¡¯s city of Chengdu there is a Mr Huang Deshou, he is a specialist in liver diseases, I also wrote him a letter to obtain his opinion. His answer was that the environment is a direct factor, and that it has a direct relationship to the pollution from the factory.
Commentary: The people without cancer have also suffered very strange skin diseases one after another, villagers think this is also caused by the pollution. This not yet 8-year-old little girl has blisters all over her body.
A volunteer: In this school, out of the 250 pupils, 137 have developed blisters.
Commentary: The people of Tongliang have naturally made the link between the polluted water and the diseases. They think that it is the polluted waters discharged by the strontium carbonate factories that caused harmed to their health and took away their beloved. But in fact, is it really the case?
Luo Liquan: At the junction of Tongliang and Dazhu there is a ¡°jade mountain¡±. This mountain produces a lot of lapis lazuli, which allowed these chemical factories to manufacture strontium carbonate. From the early 90s, specifically from 1993, after the ¡°red Butterfly¡± Company was built; a dozen new factories were opened in Tongliang, all producing carbonate. According to incomplete statistics, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and more were opened in the city of Tongliang.
Commentary: Luo Liquan drew himself a map of the entire distribution of Tongliang strontium carbonate factories. The local people think, the high density of these strontium carbonate factories is the cause of their frequent diseases. In these pictures we can see that most of these factories have been built along the river and that the sewage from factory operations is discharged directly into the river, polluting its water.
Zimo: How far is the factory¡¯s sewage outlet for the river?
Luo Liquan : It is directly discharged into the river, the outlet is only 20 meters away from the river, just on the riverside, only 20 meters from the water. The discharged water is released directly into the Fu river, without any treatment and according to our repeated testing it exceeded up to 1200 times the maximum level authorized by the national restriction standards.
Zimo: What toxic substances does this sewage contain?
Luo Liquan: It is sulfite, mainly sulfite.
Zimo: And how will this sulfite impact the water quality? What changes?
Luo Liquan : Because sulfite has an impact on all the aquatic animals, it has been categorized as class II toxic substance under the national classification.
Zimo: Have you obtained these results by research conducted by yourself or did you obtain certified testing from the environmental government department?
Luo Liquan: They are all provided by the government, all certified by the national authorities who did the testing at the site. The testing was done on the directly discharged sewage.
Zimo: Then if we look at the water, is it the same as before, or have the color and its smell changed?
Luo Liquan: Not the same, not the same. In the past our water was transparent, like a mirror. Today we cannot see the bottom anymore, the water is troubled, not clear.
Zimo: In addition to its turbidity, how about the color, the smell?
Luo Liquan: It¡¯s black, black and it stinks. That is how you can characterize this water.
Commentary: Over the last ten years people have begun to fetch water from wells in the surrounding areas of Tongliang and transport it back by horse, selling it along the piers in exchange for food. This has become a common sight in Tongliang. In the eyes of the local people, the obvious pollution has deprived them of access to safe water.
Commentary: The pictures here prove the large-scale death of fish that occurred in Tongliang water. According to Luo Liquan, all the fish died in the space of one night. This kind of disaster has already happened 3 times in Tongliang.
Zimo: The first time this kind of fish death event happened in 1996; That time, how many fish died? And how?
Luo Liquan: That time we were 35 victims in total, 35 families of fishers victims, in total over 30 kilos of fish stock died.
Zimo: Over 30 kilos of fish stock.
Luo liquan: One night, over 30 kilos. The second time in 97, again 50 kilos died, 50 kilos of fish stock.
Zimo: 35 kilos of fish stock then 50 kilos, how much does that represent in terms of economic losses?
Luo liquan: This kind of fish death occurred again the last time in 2006; In total, with these three fish death events, more than 100 kilos died, amounting to over 16 million RMB
Luo Liquan: 16 million RMB, it caused a lot of fishers to go bankrupt, some wives divorced, tearing families apart.
Zimo : Have you asked experts to come identify that the fish died of poisoning?
Luo Liquan: We had the department of agriculture, the Yangtze river environment upper environmental station, they saw these circumstances; They also conducted some investigation, which indicated that the fish had died of poisoning.
Zimo: What kind of evidence was there to show that these chemical factories¡¯ discharged toxic substances into the Yangtze river and that it led to the large scale death of fish?
Luo Liquan: The toxic substances dumped in the river were detected by the environmental bureau. It is the county¡¯ EPB inspection report that found that the discharge was 40 times in excess.
Commentary: The death of the crop seedlings, according to Luo Liquan is also due to the pollution. He told us that the soil in Tongliang has already become unsuitable for farming.
Zimo: So today, for normal people¡¯s drinking water, crops and rice to eat, what are the solutions?
Luo Liquan: For some of the rice, we realized that the pollution from one chemical plant contaminated over 200 acres of paddy. Now with this pollution, what did the boss say? After this ecological damage, the boss had this attitude: He said that to manage the environment, contain this pollution, he would have to spend 300,000 RMB, if he compensated the paddies of the normal people, then he would not even have to spend 100,000 RMB. To reduce costs, he would only compensate the peoples¡¯ paddies. The peasants took their rice crops, went to sell it, sell it to the state grain supply station, but the state didn¡¯t accept it because the rice is all black, all black color. Finally the people processed these rice crops themselves to sell as rice on the market, now how dangerous do you think this must be?
Zimo: Some people used their compensation to buy other rice for their personal consumption.
Luo Liquan: They buy rice to eat, and sell the rice they produced themselves on the market, this is what they told us when we went there to make enquiries.
Zimo: What about vegetables then, are vegetables planted locally?
Luo liquan: At the beginning, in the few years after the Red Butterfly factory came to our town, the Anju people couldn¡¯t sell their vegetables, once they knew it was vegetables from Anju town, local people refused to buy them. Finally, after a long time, there was no way to sell, so they ate these vegetables themselves, except that if a few days pass without rain, the leaves on the vegetables turn all black, black from the dust of the carbonate.
Commentary: The thick black smoke in the picture is also cause by emissions of carbonate, Luo Liquan says that this kind of black smoke contains a mixture of toxic gases like sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfite. The erosion of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfite and even more all kinds of metals over the town caused the change in color.
Commentary: Moreover, all these strontium carbonate factories have been built in densely populated areas, the hydrogen sulfite dispersed into the air above the town, making the air stink all year round.
Jia Shuo: Even the trees absorbing these toxic gases have not been spared. The parcels of forest in the nearby the strontium factories, the trees there look like their have burned in a fire. Local villagers believe they have been killed by sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfite emissions from the factories.
Luo Liquan: In the Yangtze River protective forests, according to Lu Fuliang, approximately 300-400 mu of trees have been burned to death by hydrogen sulfide gas. Many of mountain trees, pine trees, sand trees and also the farmers¡¯ orchards have been burned to death by hydrogen sulfide gases. On what basis can we affirm that these trees have been smoked to death? Anything we affirm has a basis, and we have scientific data to prove it. This problem was studied at Chongqing Agricultural University, which concluded that it is the hydrogen sulfide caused it, because trees also use the air and they have been poisoned by the toxic vapors of hydrogen sulfide.
Commentary: The factories built along the river have poured their residue in the river for many years, in over a decade the strontium carbonate factories have poured mountains of waste in the river.
Luo liquan: This residue, today we can only see one pile, it¡¯s 200 meters long and is close to 100 meters high in the river.
Journalist: There are more than a dozen companies like this red butterfly company, all with the same pile of waste.
Luo Liquan: All produce waste.
Commentary: From the photographic data provided by Luo Liquan, we can also see the mountains of waste accumulated on the riverside and even stacked up to the villagers¡¯ doorstep. A village women accidentally fell into the waste piled in front of the door of her house and almost lost both her legs from chemical erosion. The villagers then made enquiries and found that it could be related to the waste residue.
Luo Liquan: This happened one day at the end of April 2000, she was hurrying to catch some sheep which had gone to the river for grazing. To get there she had to go through the waste field. She was passing through this waste field and she didn¡¯t pay attention and fell into the waste¡she fell inside and after she came out of it¡ she was wearing a pair of rubber boots which got stuck and she couldn¡¯t lift them, so she couldn¡¯t get up. She couldn¡¯t get up and cried for help. Some villagers and her daughter helped her get out, pulled her out of there. When she was pulled out, the muscles and skin on her feet has collapsed, completely, there were only a few bones and tendons remaining.
Well, after extracting the rubber boots with a knife, the women was taken to the hospital of the red butterfly company. The doctor there, his name is Tang, Doctor Tang said, with these feet, you must go immediately to the big hospital, and have both feet amputated. You have no money and you came to me to handle this. It took over 30,000 RMB in hospital bills and yet he still couldn¡¯t cure her. Until now, her feet have still not recovered.
Commentary: Luo Liquan said, in this kind of environment, the people with skills started relocating one after the other. In September 2003 Chongqing Morning News published a report entitled ¡°Thousands of residents flee their home towns¡±. To protect their home lands, the local people started to fight. In the end, what is the reason that pushes these people victim from the factory to keep fighting unsuccessfully for over 10 years? Can the struggle of ordinary farmers bring any results?
Commentary: Over ten years ago, the dead fish events put Luo Liquan on the road to petition because, in this case, as the biggest local fish farmer, he lost 50 000 kilos of fish with an enormous economic loss of 2.4 million RMB in the space of one night, most of which was loaned to him. Because of this, Luo Liquan went totally bankrupt; yet, in over 12 years he never received any compensation from the factory
Zimo: In this decade, has this Strontium sulfate plant proceeded to compensate your local people?
Luo Liquan: Never, not even a penny of compensation
I even send a letter to request. In the first letter I wrote, I said you won¡¯t pay me compensation, but I have just started a tourism development project, I already have speedboats, housing for water related tourism and also a restaurant, and a water sport leisure center, I said, I want to continue developing the Fu River and make it a tourism spot. Even if you just help me secure my loans, that is fine, but no result, they refused to help. They responded with one sentence, go to sue! He said, wherever you go to sue us, if I we lose, selling our factory will compensate you. He was just pushing us to bring a suit. His meaning was, you farmers have no education and secondly you don¡¯t understand the law, whatever you try to do, you are helpless. My factory has many protections, you go report it, try your chance. So I, he didn¡¯t know, my weary old body would continue to pursue the legal route, adhere to the legal basis and legal criteria to finally strike him down.
Commentary: Since this pollution occurred, Luo Liquan and his fellow villagers embarked on a petitioning journey. As leader for over 12 years, Luo Liquan searched for all the administrative organs he could think of, relying solely on the 600 Yuan his daughter gave him to live, and also paid himself 8 trips to Beijing to bring complains, yet none of these means succeeded in bringing any change to these highly polluting strontium carbonate factories.
Luo Liquan: I went to the Environment Protection Administration to bring a complaint, I also went to the Ministry of Agriculture, also to the Peoples¡¯ Supreme Court, to the prosecutor and related departments, I brought complaints almost everywhere. I already wrote many letters to national leaders, I wrote petitions, petitioning letters, and I also reported to Chongqing Evening News¡ªas a way to alert national leaders of the complaint¡ªat the time in 1997 after 10 months, they all received instructions, ordering Chongqing municipality to investigate and deal with the problem, but in the end nothing has been done, big things became small and small things were just left alone, nothing has been solved.
Commentary: Besides the petitions, Luo Liquan also had recourse to the law. In the space of 12 years he received not only one judgment of the court on this case, but 5 judgments in total. Each time he lost the case. In addition, acting as a representative for the rights of others, he has already been imprisoned three times, of which the longest period was 128 days.
Luo Liquan: 128 days, they didn¡¯t let me out, I thought because they didn¡¯t follow legal procedures, I could leave anytime.. In prison I fell sick, they still did not allow me to go to the hospital. The lawyer came, he was also not allowed to see me, my daughter came to see me, she was also not allowed to see me. In the end I jumped over the wall and ran away. When I was running away, I scratched my arm against the glass on the wall.
Commentary: Despite the difficulties of petitioning, Luo Liquan also saw some light. In 10 years time he and the villagers brought repeated complaints to all levels of department in order to bring about reforms in factory¡¯s pollution management but unfortunately every single time they achieved very limited result¡£
Luo Liquan: You tell the government they¡¯re not taking care of it, everyday they say they are taking care of it, and they promise that they are handling the case, they promise they are, they say they spent more than 17 million to handle the problem, but in the end, these departments are all puppets, they didn¡¯t take care of anything. They said they managed this problem, such as that waste, can we not see from the pictures that the piles of pollution residues fell into the water? They supposedly managed the problem by building a stone fence to encircle and contain the waste, that¡¯s what they calls ¡°controlling¡±, this is what they say they spent over 17 million RMB for. This thing they constructed, it has absolutely no use for controlling pollution. When the rain falls, it drips through the waste, and vast amounts ¡huge amounts of toxic substance penetrates¡to the river, and this is called management.
Commentary: Luo Liquan says, the Strontium Carbonate factory management also built a sort of sewage water treatment pond to address the pollution issue. They said that they would recycle the polluted water for factory use, and would therefore cease to discharge polluted water. But in fact, the polluted water is still discharged, but they now do it late at night. Now how to prove the waste is secretly being discharged as before?
Luo Liquan: For instance this year at the end of March I went to see Minister Ma Yong, president of the All-China Environment Federation. Mr. Ma Yong and Xiao Wang, they came that evening to observe the factory discharging the water, ok, we looked until after 3 am, then they just started discharging this pollution, discharging this water in the river, a white colored substance. After they finished, this factory used bleaching powder, workers dumped bleach powder directly into the river, they spill bleach powder, spreading these toxic substances immediately into the water. They put the bleach in to cover up the sewage discharge, they did this to cover up their fraudulent behavior. We have already put this in the newspapers, and also in the above-mentioned China Environment News, just to prove that the factory is secretly discharging polluted water.
Commentary: 12 years of action, bankruptcy, without any result, many villagers gradually retreated from the struggle. Luo Liquan says ¡°petitioning is more difficult than the struggles of the Journey to the West¡±. Eventually, in 2008, he received the most encouraging news in 12 years of continued struggle.
Luo Liquan: Because there was so much¡ the media, and also there were complaints from the masses, especially we, this All-China Environment Federation (ACEP), the environment department created the ACEP, their volunteers came to investigate, they saw the sewage, the secret illegal discharge of polluted waters at night. They verified and investigated all the aspects of the damage and forwarded the report to the government departments, Premier Wen came and had a look and issued instructions and punishments.
Commentary: In July 2008, all the factories in Luo Liquan¡¯s hometown were closed down. Yet, he is still not satisfied.
Zimo: This time have the factories been closed for renovation, or will it be permanent?
Luo Liquan: This is only for renovation purpose, they said until the end of December, with the agreement of the national authorities, in conformity with the standards, at that time they will make a decision to produce or not produce again.
Zimo: Are you satisfied with this result?
Luo Liquan: I still have to keep demanding them to be move out of our town. Our national environmental protection law, the State Council regulation says: polluting companies, in three years if you don¡¯t reach the standards, then you will have to close down, this is the national law, but this factory has continuously failed to meet these standards for over 10, 15¡ this year it¡¯s already been 15 years. This is its management problem, it must be closed, it must be closed down according to the law. So we have this excuse to request that it is moved away.
Zimo: The people in western Chongqing have been struggling against the strontium carbonate factories for 10 years, precisely during the 10 years of double digit economic growth. The China of 10 years ago and today¡¯s China really don¡¯t look alike. In these 10 years, the local enterprises that can be found in every county, town and village have contributed a lot to local wealth, but they have also brought severe pollution problems ¨C this is not a problem that only western Chongqing knows. Now pollution issues in Western Chongqing are watched over by higher levels, and ever-stricter environmental regulations. We sincerely hope that this will not be an isolated case, but that it will instigate a new beginning, indicating that the times of environmental damage resulting from economic development will finally come to an end.