PX projects seek way out in China

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PX (paraxylene) projects have been trapped in a difficult situation in China. The residents in Dalian, Ningbo, Pengzhou, Kunming have protested successively against the local PX project plans. What are the reasons that PX projects face difficult situation in China?

Hundreds of people took to the street in southwest China's city of Kunming on May 4 to protest the construction of a chemical plant that they believe will damage the environment. [File photo]

What are the concerns of the different parties in PX project?

In 2012, thousands of people in east China's Ningbo protested the construction of a PX plant over health concerns. The mass protest started at the first local villagers of Zhenhai district of Ningbo expressed their concerns about the pollution and asked the government to relocate the village.

Ma Youfu, 76, a villager of Nanhong village said that at first villagers didn’t focus on the PX project, but the fact that Hongcun village hadn’t been included in the overall relocation plan. Things changed since the government of Zhenhai District released the planned expansion project of refined oil.

Zhenhai is the important chemical industry base in Zhejiang province. Local villagers paid high attentions to the environmentally risky projects in their areas. Wu Jiafen, a local resident said: “Zhenhai was beautiful and clean, now it’s surrounded by industrial zones. Even the air has an unpleasant smell.”

In the end of May 2013, local residents of Zhenhai district of Ningbo received the communication documents of PX projects. Song, an owner of flower shop said: “I know now that PX contains low toxicity which couldn’t damage the people’s health. However, no one can ensure the company will strictly fulfill the most stringent discharge standards.”

The residents are not the only group that is anxious about the PX project. A local official also said that the government was under the pressure from all parties and worried also that the project became a huge burden.

What caused “PX anxiety”?

“Public’s wrong belief that PX has high risk of poisoning makes wrong information spread wild and fast. We still have a lot to do to promote knowledge about PX,” said Professor Wang Wenchuan from Beijing University of Chemical Technology. Fears are easily magnified, and rumors take this opportunity to spread, which results in mass panic over time.

In the government driven chemical projects in the mainland, enterprises and government gain project eventually, but local residents bear the risk of environment pollution. Once the people see the unequal treatment, of course they will oppose to the project, said professor Li Wanxin from City University of Hong Kong.

Without effective communication and dialogue, the public does not understand the project, so they are tempted easily by rumors and wrong information, said Su Weiwen, from business school of Hong Kong’s Heng Seng Management College.

People tend to believe the deceptive information because they lace trust in government. Having doubts for the producers’ management and government’s supervision, the public is unwilling to accept follow-up social cost, said Zhang Bohui with Hong Kong Lingnan University.

How to get out of the complex?

Because of different perspectives and interests, public opinion may sometimes not match government planning. Wang Wenchuan believes that government should decision in accordance with scientific data and professionals’ research report.

Cao Mingde, vice president of China environmental resources and Law Communities believes that information including types of pollutants, concentration and quantity should be disclosed timely and accurately. Authorities are responsible for working out a solution to mitigating pollution.

Li Runsheng, vice president of China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation believes that it is necessary to have an adequate environmental impact assessment and social risk assessment before making the decision.

Secondly, local authorities should standardize the safety mechanism, including protection towards workers and supervision over the companies so as to raise public confidence.

Thirdly, an introduction of an independent third party is necessary to strengthen supervision and increase public participation in decision-making.

Finally, government should play a role of a mediator between developer and the public. PX project should obtain consent of nearby residents. A perfect land solicit and compensate system is of necessity.


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