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SMS Delays Controversial Chemical Project in Xiamen
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Xiamen, a port city in east China's Fujian Province, has decided to put a highly polluting chemical project on hold amid fears of pollution, the city government said on Wednesday.


"The Xiamen city government has decided to suspend construction of the PX (paraxylene) plant in Haicang District," vice mayor Ding Guoyan announced at a press conference after an internal meeting of the municipal government.


Paraxylene is a highly polluting, cancer-causing petrochemical used to make purified terephthalic acid, a raw material for producing polyester film, packaging resin and fabrics. Health experts say it can cause fetus abnormalities.


The 10.8 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) project by Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd. was expected to produce 800,000 tons of paraxylene and generate revenues of 80 billion yuan (US$10.45 billion) a year. Its planned location 16 kilometers from the city center has sparked pollution fears among the public.


Ding said the paraxylene project had passed an environmental evaluation by an expert panel before it was given the green light by the National Development and Reform Commission. "Its evaluation and approval were strictly in line with China's laws and regulations."


But the project has drawn heavy criticism in the past two months. Citizens compared it to an "atomic bomb" and sent nearly one million text messages via cell phones to their friends and families urging the government to renounce the project.


"It's like an atomic bomb in Xiamen," reads a text message that spread quickly in the past week. "Many people will suffer leukemia and more babies will be born with congenital defects."


"For the sake of our future generation, please forward the message to all your friends," it reads.


During the annual parliamentary session in March, 105 members of the country's top political advisory body, the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), expressed their disapproval of the project.


"The city government has listened to the opinions expressed and has decided, after careful deliberation, that the project must be re-evaluated," Ding told reporters on Wednesday, adding that they had asked a specialist agency to reassess its environmental impact.


The planned location of the paraxylene project is in a development zone in Haicang, a district with more than 100,000 residents, where many Hong Kong and Taiwan businesses have invested.


The nearest residential area is less than 1,500 meters from the plant, and one fifth of Xiamen island is within a radius of 10 kilometers. Gulangyu, or Piano Island, the city's largest tourist destination, is only seven kilometers from the site.


About four kilometers from the site is Xiamen Foreign Languages School, a senior high school with 5,000 students, attached to Beijing Normal University.


"A paraxylene project should be at least 100 kilometers from a major urban settlement to be considered safe," said Zhao Yufen, a CPPCC member who was among the first to oppose the project.


Haicang District is also booming with new development projects, yet many citizens, seeing no immediate response from the local government to Zhao's petition, continued to postpone their home purchasing plans.


"My friends warned me in emails not to buy an apartment in Haicang," said Xiao Fu, a Chinese journalist in New Delhi who returned to Beijing after two years away on Tuesday. She was born and brought up in Xiamen.


"I'm glad the government of my hometown has paused to listen to the people's worries," she said.


(Xinhua News Agency May 30, 2007)

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