The Emissions Of The Chinese Incineration Plants

Xie Yong is a brave man indeed – one of the few who have ever dared to sue a Chinese government agency because they refuse to reveal requested data. However, he’s not a hero who wishes to save people – he has started this for his own, personal reasons. His home is near an incineration plant, and Xie believes that its toxic emissions are the cause of his son’s medical condition – the boy has been suffering from paralysis-causing epileptic seizures for two years now, and the father is on the brink of desperation.

He and Ma Hongmei, his spouse, used to live in Nantong, satiated in Jiangsu province, where she gave birth to their child, named Yongkang. This happened in 2008. Before he was even 100 days old, he was noticeably not developing as the other kids did. He didn’t laugh, and had trouble with seeing and hearing. The worst was that he was twitching incessantly and could not be stilled. Not a long time after, he was paralysed, and was finally diagnosed by doctors with cerebral palsy.

During the mother’s pregnancy and the boy’s first couple of months, the family lived nearby the local trash incinerator. The plant released odorous emissions constantly, but Ma and Xie didn’t know of the risk then. Later, the hospital determined that the boy’s disease wasn’t genetic, but caused by environmental pollution during the mother’s pregnancy.

The father started researching the incinerator’s emissions, had a word with experts and learned that there were cases with stillbirths and premature births in the village. It was pretty much obvious by then that the unending pollution from the incineration plant was to blame.

Xie turned to the Centre for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims, a legal aid NGO based in China that helps citizens and battles legally against environmental polluters. They saw Xie’s case as one with potential to win, and started to collect evidence as to be able to make a legal case to fight against Jiangsu Tianying Saite Environmental Protection Energy Group, the owners of the incineration plants.

This was the first ever personal legal case concerning health against a waste incinerator, and the case was heard at the Hai’an local court in September 2010. The evidence that Xie put forward was an analysis which revealed dioxin concentrations in air near the plant, and those exceeded the limits by far; reports on the physical condition of workers at the plant and other sick children living nearby; and scientific papers which link the birth defects to dioxin. However, the judge wasn’t helpful and rejected his claims, advising him to appeal to the country court, where, a year later, Xie’s evidence was deemed insufficient.

Xie didn’t lose hope, however, and turned to the authorities, requesting data from the plant emissions from the local environmental protection bureau, which was perfectly legal and in his right. He was, however, rejected for the reason that this would intrude on the business secrets of the company. Xie requested again, this time in the provincial level of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, but he was once again turned down. He is still determined not to back down.

Many activists in China believe that Xie’s efforts help raise the awareness of pollution victims. It’s impossible to know how many people in a similar situation there are, but probably many of them are unaware of the health risks they are facing. This is because, sadly, all of the Chinese waste-to-energy facilities are hiding their conditions.