BEIJING, Sept. 15 -- The State Environmental
Protection Administration (SEPA) has finally found the culprit behind blood
poisoning that has caused 179 villagers to be hospitalized in Northwest China's
The lead smelter in the vicinity of the victimized
village in Huixian county has had its production license revoked, and the SEPA
has promised that the culprit and the local watchdog will both be punished.
Further investigations will be conducted on the
contaminated soil around the plant, and the Ministry of Health has joined hands
with the local health department in treating the poisoned villagers.
What has happened to this plant and the villagers is
a repetition of the mode of economic growth at the expense of the environment in
most parts of the eastern region.
This suggests that the development of the west, at
least in some places, is facing the same imperative choice between the
environment and economic growth.
When the lead smelter was first constructed in 1995,
two neighboring villages vied to have the plant built in their own territory,
considering it a source of income. The plant, they thought, would employ
villagers and pay compensation for the occupation of land. They never expected
that they themselves would have to pay such a heavy price.
To lower the cost of production, the plant used an
outdated technology outlawed in 2003. But even with the poor technology and
facilities, the smelter was given a green light.
The plant's production output rose from 3,000 tons to
5,000 tons a year from 2003, still with the outdated technology and facility,
resulting in more poisonous dust discharged into the air. Yet the county's purse
became fatter. The profits and taxes from several lead smelters in the county
make up nearly 50 percent of its gross domestic product.
The villagers had never realized the serious impact
of pollution on their health until this March, when a five-year-old boy was
found to have too much lead in his blood while he was being operated on.
When the nearby river was first polluted by
wastewater from the plant, a villager reported to the higher authorities about
the pollution, even putting up a poster warning his fellow villagers that the
pollution would cost them their health. Unfortunately, he was viewed by most
villagers as crazy.
The too-painful lesson is that the villagers and
decision-makers were too blinded by immediate gains to have a far-reaching
vision about the impact of environmental pollution.
A local official was quoted as saying that most of
the industrial projects attracted to the county have environmental problems. It
was almost impossible to lure high-tech projects to such a poor county.
It seems that those poor localities in the west must
choose between a clean environment and economic growth. Do they have another way
out? We need an answer to this question for the development of the western
(Source: China Daily)