Clean environment or economic growth 2006-09-15 10:44:26

    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 Gansu Province.

    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    To lower the cost of production, the plant used an outdated technology outlawed in 2003.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    The plant's production output rose from 3,000 tons to 5,000 tons a year from 2003, still with the outdated technology and facility, resulting in more poisonous dust discharged into the air.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 region.

(Source: China Daily)

Editor: Feng Tao
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