Two village officials in northern China’s Shanxi province were detained on Wednesday after being caught concealing industrial pollution, announced the provincial environmental protection bureau.
The detention came hot on the heels of an exposé from state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) on Tuesday evening. When CCTV reporters went to Hongtong County in Linfen to investigate reports that a state-owned company was dumping chemical waste, the two officials blocked their path and threatened to take them hostage.
In late February, CCTV received several tips from residents of Hongtong County pointing fingers at Shanxi Sanwei Group Co. Ltd., a state-owned company that manufactures and sells chemical products, for illegal waste disposal. The broadcaster’s undercover reporters found that truckloads of solid waste were being transported to a village about 2 kilometers away from the plant and dumped into a pit as large as two soccer fields.
White and gray residue — consisting of coal ash and carbide slag generated from ethylene production — cascaded down the 30-meter walls of the pit. According to official regulations on industrial waste disposal, strict technical guidelines apply to landfills accommodating these two materials in order to avoid air and soil contamination, but the reporters found no such preventive measures at the site. A villager told CCTV that his mother fell into the pit by accident last August and died overnight after sinking into the waste.
A large pit filled with industrial waste is seen near the Shanxi Sanwei chemical plant in Hongtong County, Shanxi province, 2018. From Weibo
The surrounding roads and fields were covered with a thick layer of coal ash, and a sharp odor permeated the air — endangering public health and threatening wheat production. In addition to solid waste, effluent from the plant ran directly into the Fen River, the longest river in the province and a major branch of the famed Yellow River. Farmers said that the land over which the wastewater ran was no longer arable.
On their way to the village, the reporters were stopped by two men claiming to be the village head and deputy head. They refused to let the reporters go even when they explained that they were journalists. “You cannot leave the village unless you give us a proper explanation,” one of the officials says in CCTV’s video. In the end, the reporters managed to escape by calling the police.
Valued at over 4.5 billion yuan ($716 million), Shanxi Sanwei is listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and was once honored with a provincial award for business excellence. In the last five years, however, the company has often been reported for environmental violations.
Yet a Hongtong County official was unsympathetic when a CCTV reporter inquired about the waste dumping case. The deputy chief of the county environment bureau, Wang Xinsen, said his office was not authorized to investigate the complaint because it concerned a deal arranged between village officials and Shanxi Sanwei. “The pollution is caused by people in the village — if they don’t deal with it, who else should? They deserve it,” Wang said.
The provincial authority’s notice on Wednesday stated that a working group of police and environmental officials from Linfen, the city that administers Hongtong County, are investigating the case.
Following the CCTV report, the stock of Shanxi Sanwei on Wednesday tumbled by 10 percent — the daily maximum on Chinese stock exchanges.
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: Moment/VCG)