Chromium waste dumpers in Yunnan taken to court

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Feature Story - 2011-11-02
Two months after illegally dumping toxic chromium waste in eastern Yunnan province, likely causing cancer in local residents and attracting national media attention, Luliang Chemical Co. is still under the microscope. By Evan Brooks.

A Greenpeace campaigner tests the water nearby the chromium waste.


The company won't be left alone any time soon.

When Greenpeace heard of the incident, we sent a team to Longtan - dubbed the "cancer village" by Chinese press - to investigate and document the severity of the situation.

The team's findings led Greenpeace campaigner Ma Tianjie to write about his experience in the southwestern province. He said the villagers lacked proper awareness about the dangers of the chemical waste that had seeped into their soil, water and crops. Ma said villagers walked barefoot in their rice paddies. They told Ma that it wasn't a good idea to stand in the water long because it would burn after a while. Indeed the situation was severe. But media attention has slowly burned out since then.

It gained new life recently, however.

On October 19, China's oldest environmental NGO, Friends of Nature, filed a public interest law suit against Luliang Chemical for its unethical practices. The city of Qujing accepted the suit the following day. This is the first time a grassroots Chinese NGO has successfully brought a public interest law suit to court.

It's safe to say that Friends of Nature won't be taking their eyes off Luliang Chemical for several years to come. The move by Friends of Nature has also spurred the press to get involved again.

On October 21, two of China's largest news outlets - Xinhua and the People's Daily - reported that Luliang Chemical might have resumed operations, adding to  its now infamous chromium toxic waste pile again. In fact, local residents said the company had resumed operations in September, not long after their scandal was revealed.

The brouhaha surrounding Luliang Chemical was given new life in the press. But it was short-lived. Other news organizations quickly put the fire out.

The China Daily on October 24 reported that the Luliang Chemical had not resumed operations; instead the company was busy with a clean-up operation.

The China Daily said the company definitely had not resumed operations.

Finally, in an attempt to relieve all doubt, China News Service reported October 25 that the government had performed "strict and in-depth" investigations to ensure the company had not resumed operations.

So, what is it? Have they stopped? Will they ever resume operations? What will they do with all their toxic chromium waste? Will Friends of Nature win their suit?

The future is as unclear as the present. But one thing's for sure: because of the work of Greenpeace, Friends of Nature, and the lawyers and villagers involved, the chances of Luliang Chemical dumping their toxic waste so illegally and so openly is much less likely to happen again. That's one more victory for the environment.

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