- Title: On the fringes of China's war on pollution, villagers struggle for redress
- Date: 29th May 2017
- Summary: BEIJING, CHINA (FILE - MARCH 5, 2017) (REUTERS) CHINA'S PRESIDENT, XI JINPING, WAKING IN FOR NATIONAL PEOPLE'S CONGRESS CHINA'S TOP LEADERSHIP TAKING THEIR SEATS
- Embargoed: 12th June 2017 03:00
- Keywords: pollution chemical plant villagers crops damage
- Location: BEIJING AND HANDAN CITY, HEBEI PROVINCE, CHINA
- City: BEIJING AND HANDAN CITY, HEBEI PROVINCE, CHINA
- Country: China
- Topics: Pollution,Environment
- Reuters ID: LVA0026IW8CAT
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS NOTE: VIDEO OF SHOT NO. 32 IS OVERLAID WITH AUDIO OF SHOT NO. 33
China's Hebei province has promised to clean up its economy and close down polluters, but after years of protests, villagers living in the shadows of the Guantou chemical park in Hebei's rural south remain sceptical.
Though festooned with banners calling for the construction of "beautiful villages" and the "upgrade" of Hebei's highly-polluting heavy industries, the outskirts of Handan, officially China's smoggiest city, remain beyond the reach of the country's environmental enforcers, especially at night, say locals.
More than 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Beijing in the villages of Nansitou and East Luzhuang, residents complained that local authorities turned a blind eye to a sprawling complex of chemical plants they accuse of polluting air, water and land outside of normal working hours when inspectors are less likely to respond to complaints.
In the years since the government announced they were setting up the complex in 2008, crops have failed and locals have become sick, residents say.
Locals say the number of people suffering cancer and stokes has increased substantially since the factories began operation.
Reuters is unable to independently substantiate the villagers' claims that factory activity has had an impact on their overall health.
Government departments, disease control centres and hospitals in Hebei province, the city of Handan and in the local county governments did not respond to requests to provide data on local cancer rates or causes of death.
The government has acknowledged in a three-year campaign to tackle cancer launched in 2015 that environmental pollution has contributed to a surge of cancer cases in China.
A 2016 study by the Hebei Medical University showed that lung cancer mortality rates in the province rose 189 percent from 1973-75 to 2010-2011.
In the beginning of 2015 frustrated villagers took matters into their own hands, blockading the chemical park and the local highway.
According to locals the authorities responded with beatings and detentions.
In a bid to tackle the environmental impact of four decades of untrammelled growth, China is in the fourth year of a "war on pollution" and has promised to take action against persistent offenders and the local governments that protect them.
The provincial and municipal environmental authorities did not respond to requests for comment on activities at the Guantao park, but an inspector surnamed Liu, who is responsible for monitoring the park, insisted the facilities were under 24-hour surveillance.
He said the city and county level governments, together with environmental enforcement officers and the police, were all working hard to make sure the companies were complying. The park's administrators could not be reached for comment on two separate listed numbers.
But villagers say local enterprises continue to game the system, turning off machinery during daylight hours, when inspectors are more likely to turn up, and ramping up production after midnight, when complaints are more often ignored.
During a dawn visit to the area by Reuters journalists, plants at the Guantou chemical park were conspicuously more active. Plumes of smoke issued from buildings that were inactive during the day, and a chemical stink hung in the air.
A source with direct knowledge of operations at another plant said untreated waste water was regularly dumped directly into the ground.
"There's so much polluted water they couldn't handle it," the source said when asked why the firm didn't use an on-site treatment facility. The source did not want to be identified, fearing repercussions.
With no faith in the ability of the environmental protection bureau to keep them safe from the threat of pollution, many villages are resigned to living in the shadow of factories they believe could be destroying their health.
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