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September 26, 2011

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Waiting game for villagers in shadow of chemical factories

THE small village looks exactly as it did 20 years ago. Only then the sky was clearer and homes were not in the shadow of the towers of nearby chemical factories, residents said.

A middle-aged man carrying a caged bird walked slowly, on a dull weekend afternoon in Guijia Village, a place eking out its last days among one of city's key factory zones in Pudong's Gaoqiao area.

"Luckily there's no smell today," said the man, surnamed Lu, looking at the black mynah bird in the cage.

Oil tankers passed from time to time yesterday, throwing up clouds of dust along the road.

A three-hour fire in a Gaoqiao oil refinery factory on Friday seemed to have left little mark on the area - no work suspended and no truck runs stopped. It was one of three large fires and three chemical gas leaks in less than two years at Gaoqiao factories.

City environmental officials said no obvious pollution was detected after the blaze.

"That's what we face each and every day," said Lu. The 57-year-old, now retired, was a worker in a chemical factory in Gaoqiao and has lived his entire life in the village that is surrounded by a chemical factory, a shipyard and a coal plant.

"I've just seen and known too much," said Lu, who declined to give his full name, saying he was "afraid of trouble."

Residents fear the emissions, said Lu. "Sometimes the smell is choking and sometimes it's spicy and pungent," he said. The emissions can "hardly be toxic-free," he added.

"Ask them where can they store the waste after neutralization reactions," said the ex-worker. "The air."

It is unknown if cases of illness among villagers, including cancer, are related to the chemical industry.

One senior factory worker, strolling in the village, told Shanghai Daily he had a skin disease.

One of few locals still living in the village, Lu said many young, including his daughter, choose to leave, and most inhabitants are from out of town.

Meanwhile, the city now is talking about the relocation of the Gaoqiao factory zone, following the accidents.

The 4.2-square-kilometer zone, containing mostly factories affiliated to the SINOPEC Shanghai Gaoqiao Petrochemical Corp, was founded in 1981 and its products include gasoline, jet fuel and diesel.

SINOPEC Shanghai was fined 200,000 yuan (US$31,308) for a gas leak in March that spread to many parts of the city. Hundreds of thousands of people were affected.

As part of a citywide industry adjustment plan to prevent further pollution and upgrade the industry, Gaoqiao chemical zone is expected to move out to more suburban area or neighboring province, people close to the government said in early September.

But no timetable is set yet.

To the village, moving out seems to be a must.

Village officials said they had decided to relocate the residents soon to places far away from the chemical zone and provide subsidies.

"Now we just take it one day at a time," said a tenant, surnamed Liu, who paid 400 yuan for an apartment.

Asked about the relocation date. "Maybe one year, or may be two, who knows."

Still like the smell, the plan hangs in the air. Beneath the sky, the village has no color, only dust.


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