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April 28, 2014

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Officials ‘turn blind eye to polluters’

LEVELS of cancer-causing lead 700 times national standards have been found in water in northeastern city Jixi, with local officials accused of turning a blind eye to graphite industry polluters.

Tests on underground water in Jixi’s Liumao Village in Heilongjiang Province also revealed levels of toxic mercury nine times the national standard, a news report by China Central Television found.

Water and air pollution there is attributed to poorly regulated graphite mining and processing, with local officials accused of protecting culprits.

“Officials want to protect this business,” a manager of the local Changyuan graphite processing plant said.

“If they close small mines, where can they get tax and how can they solve unemployment problems?”

Graphite mining has become a lucrative business in recent years, with growing demand for lithium batteries used in electric cars and electronic goods such as smartphones.

In 2010, a ton of graphite sold at 2,500 yuan (US$400) but now can fetch 6,000 yuan.

But while the trade has brought big earnings, the Changyuan manager said that environmental protection investment has been neglected.

The plant was set up by Shenzhen-based BTR battery Materials Co Ltd and local mine owners last year.

Clients include Japanese electronics producer Panasonic and domestic car and rechargeable battery manufacturer BYD.

The manager insisted there were no pollution problems at the plant, but a staff member said operations were suspended on March 20 after an underground leak was discovered.

Local officials seemed to know nothing of this leak as they took no action, while residents still drank tainted water unaware of the hazards, CCTV found.

Signs of pollution are evident in the area. In one village several hundred meters from the plant, graphite ash covered the river, fields and houses.

“Don’t mention it. This has been damaging our health for a year,” an elderly villager said.

“We have to bring in clothes put out to dry while they are still wet, otherwise they’re covered in ash.”

Another said: “If you shine a torch in the evening, you see graphite ash falling like snowflakes on the fields.”

A third villager asked: “How much ash have we drunk in our water this year?”

“But then, we have to drink,” added the villager.

Local authorities had not responded by last night.


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