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Publice opinions asked on Xiamen chemical plant
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The local government of Xiamen Wednesday began inviting citizens to submit their opinions on the future of a controversial chemical plant project that was suspended earlier this year following persistent public protests over the threat of pollution.

Members of the public have been told they can register their suggestions over the next ten days via email, post or telephone with the municipal government or the Beijing-based Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences that is in charge of an assessment of the environmental impacts of the project.

"We'll treat the opinions and suggestions collected through public participation in an objective, fair and comprehensive way," said Li Yanwu, director of the academy's center for environmental assessment, at a press conference held in the southeastern port city Wednesday.

"As to whether a suggestion is accepted or not, we will give explanations and include some of those into our newly completed report on the environmental assessment of the chemical project," said Li.

The Xiamen authorities put the polluting and potentially dangerous chemical project, known as the PX (paraxylene) plant in the city's Haicang District, 16 kilometers from the city center, on hold on May 30 after coming under immense pressure from citizens virulently opposed to the project.

On June 7, the Xiamen municipal government announced that the construction of the chemical project would rest on an environmental assessment.

A month later, the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences was entrusted by the Xiamen municipal government with the assessment task. Li and his colleagues finished the report late last month.

According to an abbreviated version of the report posted on the official website of the municipal government, experts concluded that the southern area of Haicang District, where the PX plant was originally planned to be located, is too small and inadequate for the diffusion of atmospheric pollution.

The local government had set two targets for the southern part of Haicang: to develop the area into a sub-center of the city and to create an industrial zone focused on the chemical industry.

However, according to the environmental assessment report, urban planners are advised to choose one or the other, but not both.

If the city government's priority is the first target, then the area is unsuitable for the development of the chemical industry, the report says. If the latter, a number of residential buildings should be demolished, citizens should be relocated and strict controls over the chemical plants should be imposed, it continues.

But news that members of the public are encouraged to submit their opinions has failed to appease citizens of Xiamen and the majority of those interviewed by Xinhua remained opposed to the chemical plant.

"I will use legal channels, such as hotlines or email addresses provided by the government, to express my opposition," said a citizen surnamed Wu in his 30s.

"The project is no good for the environment or people's health, " the Internet cafe owner said.

"Xiamen has long been well known for its beautiful scenery and as one of the most livable cities in China. I don't want to see it become an industrial zone or a large chemical plant set up here," said a female logistics company clerk surnamed Lin, 26.

The 10.8-billion-yuan (about 1.4 billion U.S. dollars) project by Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd. is expected to produce 800,000 tons of paraxylene and generate revenues of 80 billion yuan (10.77 billion U.S. dollars) a year.

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.

"We encourage public participation in the environmental assessment of the project with a view to ensuring a harmonious and sustainable development for the southern area of Haicang District in the future," said Xie Haisheng, director of the office of Xiamen's environmental assessment leading group for overall urban planning.

"Public participation is an important step in the environmental assessment of urban planning and also an important way to achieve objectivity and fairness in this regard," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency December 6, 2007)

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