BEIJING (AP) — Hundreds of villagers in eastern China have demonstrated in recent days against pollution they say is caused by a solar panel factory, with some protesters storming the compound and overturning vehicles, local authorities and residents said Sunday.
More than 500 villagers in Zhejiang province’s Haining city gathered in front of the Zhejiang Jinko Solar Co. Ltd. factory on Thursday demanding an explanation for the alleged pollution, the Haining government said in a statement.
The company is a subsidiary of a New York Stock Exchange-listed Chinese solar company, JinkoSolar Holding Co. Calls to both the Zhejiang company and its parent firm rang unanswered Sunday.
It is the latest protest in China driven by environmental concerns and highlights citizens’ increasing boldness in demanding action from the authoritarian government.
Some of the protesters charged into the factory compound Thursday, overturned eight company vehicles and destroyed its offices, the government said. On Friday, demonstrators damaged four police vehicles. Local residents contacted by phone said villagers have protested every night since Thursday.
Video footage posted on the website of the city government’s information office showed that the factory’s windows had been smashed and that dozens of police officers were deployed to the site.
The factory’s waste disposal has been failing pollution tests since April and despite being warned by authorities, the plant has not effectively controlled the pollution, the official Xinhua News Agency cited Chen Hongming, deputy head of Haining’s environmental protection bureau, as saying.
A 64-year-old Hongxiao villager surnamed Shi said not only does the factory discharge waste water into a river, it also spews dense smoke out of a dozen chimneys.
“An elementary school and a kindergarten are located less than a kilometer (0.6 mile) from the plant. My house is only about 500 meters (550 yards) from the plant. Many fish died after the factory discharged waste into a small river,” Shi said in a phone interview.
“The villagers strongly request that this factory be moved to another area. I am very worried about the health of the younger generation,” he said.
Last month, 12,000 residents in the northeastern port city of Dalian protested against a chemical plant after waves from a tropical storm broke a dike guarding the plant and raised fears that flood waters could release toxic chemicals. The massive protests prompted the deployment of riot police and a pledge by local officials to relocate the plant. A similar protest in 2007 in Xiamen was also successful.
But while protests in middle-class cities like Dalian and Xiamen have succeeded, the government rarely gives in and demonstrations in rural villages don’t often work.
The latest protests also expose the dirty side of clean energy. Along a similar vein, China has seen scores of protests by villagers in recent years over lead poisoning. The soaring use of cars and electric scooters is driving strong demand for lead acid batteries, and their production and recycling are a key source of lead contamination.
In Zhejiang, the Haining government said it had asked the solar panel factory to suspend production and that local leaders would soon meet with village representatives.
Local police have caught people suspected of theft and vandalism, while a 33-year-old man surnamed Sun has been detained for “spreading false information online” earlier this month about an increase in cancer cases in the nearby village of Hongxiao, the statement said.