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Pollution Risk Passed on to Yangtze River After Qidong Protest

08-14 14:39 Caijing
The protesters in Qidong scored a victory, but with nowhere else to go, waste will continue to be dumped into the Yangtze River, causing serious environmental degradation.

By staff reporters Yan Jianbiao and He Tao

Thousands of residents in Qidong, Jiangsu Province, gathered in front of a local government office July 28 to protest against the construction of a drainage pipeline to the sea in Qidong, a county-level city under Nantong, for Japan-based Oji Paper Group's Nantong factory. When their demands were not met, the protestors charged into the building, causing damages to some parts of the office.

The clash was quelled in the afternoon when Ding Dawei, Party Secretary of Nantong City, announced through a loudspeaker that the project would be "permanently halted."

Japan-based Oji Paper Group decided to set up a plant at the Economic and Technological Development Zone in Nantong back in 2003. The new factory, named Jiangsu Oji Paper Co. Ltd. (Jiangsu Oji Paper), is expected to become the biggest integrated pulp project in China. It is estimated that once the project is up and running, it will bring in over 700 million yuan in tax revenue every year.

Nantong City proposed the construction of a drainage pipeline through which Jiangsu Oji Paper could discharge its industrial wastewater into the sea. The planned 104-kilometer-long pipeline would have six kilometers in marine area, with approximately 2.2 kilometers going through mud flats and the remaining 3.8 kilometers extending to the Yellow Sea. The outlet of the pipeline would be located in the waters within Qidong City.

The practice of releasing waste into the sea has been around for over a century. When the waste flows into the sea through a drainage pipeline, it will immediately be diluted and diffused under the combined force of pipeline spewing waste, buoyancy, and currents. The density of pollutants is then reduced drastically, after which most contaminants are degraded by chemical and biological effects in the waters.

However, residents in Qidong, who depend on the sea for their livelihood, strongly opposed the project. With 203 kilometers of shoreline, 660,000 mu (1 mu= 0.0667 hectares) of mud flats, and the Lüsi Fishing Port known as one of the country's four major fishing ports, Qidong has formed a highly efficient fishing industrial chain. A large number of fishermen earn their livings in Qidong's coastal zone.

The drainage pipeline would impact the local fish breeding and fishing industries. The construction at the bottom of the sea would damage fish spawn, fish larvae and juvenile fish; once the pipeline is up and running, based on the forecast that during the first stage of the project, 65,000 tons of waste would be discharged into the sea through the pipeline every day, an area of 0.065-0.84 square kilometers near the outlet would become a wastewater mixing zone unsuitable for breeding fish.

Wei Heping, a former Tongji University professor who participated in the project's feasibility study, contends that the public's resistance towards the pipeline project comes from conceptual rather than technical reasons. The pipeline is a deep-sea discharge project. Considering the water dynamics around the selected outlet, the project is more than enough to handle Jiangsu Oji Paper's wastewater even if the factory operates in full capacity.

However, the Nantong and Qidong governments have ignored the public's right to know as well as their concerns over pollution during discussions and construction of the project in the past eight years, which increased the public's distrust for official discourses and resistance against government policies and ultimately resulted in the protest.

Since the Nantong government decided to halt the project, Jiangsu Oji Paper has no choice but to continue releasing its waste into the Yangtze River, a practice that has lasted for more than a year since the factory opened in 2011. 

The Yangtze River already has an obvious pollution belt in the coastal waters along the lower reaches of the river, where numerous chemical factories rest along both banks. Research shows that 50 to 80 percent of the water sources in cities along the Yangtze River are at risk of being polluted.

Zou Jingzhong, researcher at the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), held that since the Yangtze River has a much lower self-purification capacity compared with the sea, discharging wastewater into the river would probably cause even greater environmental damage than if it is released into the sea.

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