Rotting rubbish has been piling up on the streets of Jiaxing city for four days after residents blocked garbage trucks with their bodies at a waste disposal plant in a protest against pollution.
Villagers living near Jiaxing's Buyun Garbage Incineration Power Plant gathered at its gate on Saturday to block rubbish trucks from entering, saying its stinking smell and dust had affected their health and the harvest.
A spokesman for the local government said it had persuaded the villagers to leave on Wednesday, with promises to replace the plant's old furnaces with new ones which met environmental standards.
But the replacement would be carried out only after approximately 400 tonnes of rubbish that had piled up in the city over the past four days was properly disposed of, he said on condition of anonymity.
The plant was forced to stop operation between Saturday and Tuesday when angry villagers took turns to block the main entrance to the privately owned plant.
On Tuesday, around 30 villagers deflated the tires of seven rubbish trucks and blocked the plant's trucks from leaving.
The plant in Jiaoshanmen Village, Daqiao town, about 10 kilometers from Jiaxing's city center, opened in 2003.
Village official Chen Jianfeng said residents had been worrying about pollution for the past five years. "But this time, their grievances reached a climax because of apparent losses in the fields and suspected health problems."
Farmers complained their fruits and vegetables hardly sell on the market, as dust from the incineration plant falls on crops and is difficult to remove, said Chen.
Yu Yuezhong, who grows grapes in his family's greenhouse, said this year's fruits were extremely small because the dust that accumulated on the roof of the greenhouse blocked sunshine.
Many villagers suspected that pollution from the plant had affected their health, too. Though no official figure is available, one of the villagers said 16 people in the village had died of cancer in the past five years.
"We didn't used to have so many lung and liver cancer cases in the past," said Xie Linyou, 61. Xie himself was diagnosed with liver cancer last month.
Village head Chen Jianfeng said the local government had sent an investigation team to visit every household to hear the villagers' complaints and discuss details of a technological overhaul with the plant.
Senior executives of the privately-owned plant were nowhere to be found Wednesday and only an office manager was answering the phone. "I think we'll need help from the government for a technological upgrade," he said on condition of anonymity.
By Tuesday night, the incident had paralyzed more than 20 trash collection centers in Jiaxing, which together dispose of more than 400 tonnes of rubbish daily. Workers wearing face masks had to pile up the rubbish -- in bags or without packages -- along the streets.
"The street has been stinking for four says. We have repeated our complaints to the government," said a resident surnamed Yang. He said he and his neighbors in downtown Jiaxing had to keep their windows shut.
Jiaxing, a city with about 4 million people, is a boomtown in Zhejiang Province.
Several other Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Changzhou in the eastern Jiangsu Province, and Qinhuangdao in Hebei Province, have built similar plants to turn trash into a power source.
The incident has not disrupted power supplies in Jiaxing, as power generated in garbage treatment accounts for a small proportion of the city's total supplies, a spokesman with the city government told Xinhua on Wednesday.
(Xinhua News Agency November 12, 2008)