Protests against plans to build a p-xylene plant turned violent last week in the southern China city of Maoming. The protests were the latest by the Chinese public against a chemical that has come to symbolize the risks associated with chemical production.
Police arrested 19 demonstrators on March 30 who were part of a small and initially peaceful demonstration that attracted 80 people, according to a Maoming government statement. Amateur videos posted on YouTube indicate that far more than 80 people were involved.
Authorities claim the event turned violent when protesters started throwing water bottles and stones at police. The government said no one died but did not specify how many people were injured. Authorities later stated that the p-xylene project has yet to be approved and will not go ahead without public consensus. It would be part of an expansion at a subsidiary of the state-owned oil giant Sinopec.
Derived from oil refinery side streams, p-xylene is used to manufacture polyester fiber and plastics. The substance is toxic but less so than other chemicals commonly made in China such as benzene or vinyl chloride.
Chinese protests against p-xylene began in 2007 in Xiamen when citizens forced the relocation of a construction project. Global Times, a state-controlled publication known for its nationalist tone, published an editorial last week stating that turning to imports of p-xylene, known as PX, would pose a “strategic risk” for China.
“A lack of communication between local governments and the public, plus poor official credibility, constitute the roots of local repugnance against PX projects,” the editorial said.