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Pollution, Birth Defects Powering Unrest Across China - LA Times

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hatrack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-03-06 08:47 AM
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Pollution, Birth Defects Powering Unrest Across China - LA Times
China's pollution has long been a focus of international criticism as clouds of toxic air waft over California and polluted rivers empty into the Pacific Ocean. Increasingly, however, China's own people are taking to the streets to demand an end to the birth defects, Technicolor water, dead crops and murky air that are robbing them of their livelihoods and lives.

"Environmental problems are increasingly a flash point of rising unrest in China," said Nicholas Bequelin, China researcher with Human Rights Watch. "You're not talking about the size of some woodland or whether to cut old-growth trees. You're talking about life-and-death issues for villagers."

In Huashui, villagers may have forced out the factories, but they have paid a price. Nearly a dozen farmers, including Wang's 40-year-old brother, Wang Liangping, have been sent to prison for as long as five years. Several say they have been tortured. "We're not the troublemakers," Wang said. "It's the government and the factories that poisoned us. They created the problems, but we're the ones sent to jail."


Villagers here say they originally cooperated with the government. The first chemical factories, which sprang up around 2001, were welcomed as a source of jobs and economic growth. That view started to change, however, as stillbirths increased and more children were born with deformed limbs or with learning disabilities. As more chemical factories moved in, residents saw a "death zone" expand around the industrial area, killing trees and crops as far away as six miles. "If you ate the rice immediately after harvest, you got a stomachache," said Jiang Yonggen, 44, a farmer. "And vegetables wouldn't grow at all." They also noticed that the foul-smelling gas clouds emitted by the factories at night left their children's eyes glued shut in the morning. But when they raised their concerns with government and factory officials, with their yellow shriveled cornstalks in hand, they were told they must have used too much fertilizer.

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