Ministry sued for failing to provide pollution data

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A man is preparing to sue the Ministry of Environmental Protection for failing to provide information about the emissions from an incineration factory, which, he claimed, paralyzed his son's brain.

Xie Yong, from Hai'an county, Nantong, in Jiangsu province, said he plans to sue the ministry to force it to disclose the information. He claimed that the pollution caused his 4-year-old son's brain paralysis and epilepsy shortly after he was born.

Xie said he will formally sue the ministry at the High People's Court of Jiangsu once materials are prepared.

Xie claimed that his son's condition was caused by poisonous gas, flying ash, cinder and waste liquid released by the incineration plant, located 200 meters from his home.

In June 2010, Xie sued the factory at a county-level court, but lost the case because he had no evidence to support his accusation, he said.

He then asked the local environmental protection bureau to provide data about the plant's emissions. The bureau rejected his request.

He then asked the Ministry of Environmental Protection for access to the emissions information, but that request was also turned down. The ministry said it was the environmental protection bureau's duty to monitor and supervise an individual factory, according to Xie.

That prompted him to think of suing the ministry.

"Taking the ministry to court is my last choice," said Xie. "It's the only way I can get justice."

The ministry did not comment. The case is seen by environmentalists and lawyers as signifying a rising awareness of environmental protection by the public. Very few people have sued the ministry for failing to provide pollution information.

"It's the first time a victim of a waste incineration factory has stood up to fight for his rights," said Liu Jinmei, a lawyer with the China University of Political Science and Law's Postgraduate Legal Assistance Center. "His efforts indicate a growing awareness of safeguarding the rights of victims of pollutants."

The center is helping Xie draft indictment documents.

The Hai'an bureau of environmental protection said it did not release much information about the plant because "we can only release some of the information for fear of leaking business secrets".

"We are just acting according to regulations," said Gu Shihe, director of the bureau.

Gu said the bureau asked the city and provincial environmental protection authorities for instructions, but they did not reply.

Xie said he has spent 80,000 yuan ($12,700) to treat his son, a huge amount for a family that earns about 3,000 yuan a month.

Green Beagle, a Beijing-based non-governmental environmental protection organization, has helped Xie raise 7,200 yuan in donations.

But the money raised so far is still far from enough to cover medical bills and further treatment for his son, said Chen Liwen, a researcher with Green Beagle.

Liu said she hoped Xie's case could help enhance people's awareness of the potential hazard of incineration plants, which are mushrooming across the country to deal with the growing amount of household garbage.

Incineration plants, which use less land than landfills, are generally safe, but strict supervision must be imposed to make sure they are operated in accordance with regulations, said Mao Da, an expert in solid-waste management at Beijing Normal University.

Dioxins, which may cause cancer, may be released if an incinerator fails under a high temperature, Mao said.

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