Caixin
Aug 18, 2017 06:57 PM
ENVIRONMENT

Farmers Take Shandong Environmental Authority to Court for Alleged Negligence

Eleven migrant farmers in Shandong province are seeking a court order that will require the regional environmental authority to reinvestigate alleged pollution from local manufacturers and make the findings public. Above, a farmer plants rice in Binzhou city, Shandong, on May 31. Photo: Visual China
Eleven migrant farmers in Shandong province are seeking a court order that will require the regional environmental authority to reinvestigate alleged pollution from local manufacturers and make the findings public. Above, a farmer plants rice in Binzhou city, Shandong, on May 31. Photo: Visual China

(Shanghai) — A group of farmers in Shandong province is taking the provincial environmental authority to court as the group seeks to have the government investigate alleged contamination in the area’s irrigation water, which they say poisoned their crops last year.

Eleven migrant farmers, in an appeal filed earlier this week at the intermediate court in the provincial capital of Jinan, said they are seeking a court order that will require the regional environmental authority to reinvestigate alleged pollution from local manufacturers and make the findings public.

A district-level court had earlier ruled in favor of the provincial environmental protection department after officials argued they couldn’t identify specific perpetrators behind the alleged contamination after an investigation. But the plaintiffs say the authority failed to make their findings public in accordance with a provincial rule.

The intermediate court has not yet set a date for a trial. The provincial environmental authority declined to respond to a Caixin inquiry over the appeal, saying it could not comment on a pending lawsuit.

The plaintiff farmers had come to the province in 2015 to grow rice on more than 2,000 acres they had leased from a local company in the city of Bingzhou. Their entire crop had gradually died in May and June 2016, according to a court document from the first trial in December.

The farmers had the rice samples tested by the environmental authority in the city’s Zhanhua district. According to the authority, wastewater discharged by industrial manufacturers into the local irrigation system had caused the loss of crops, the court document shows.

They turned to the provincial-level Shandong Environmental Protection Department, hoping that the higher authority would launch an investigation and hold the factories to account. But the department allegedly refused to make the findings public or take any follow-up action based on the investigation.

The farmers later took the provincial environmental authority to a district court in Jinan in December, accusing the agency of negligence.

The environmental protection department has the obligation to launch an investigation into agricultural damage linked to environmental pollution and come up with an official finding under a 1994 regulation on environmental protection and agriculture issued by the provincial government, according to Wang Luchun, a solicitor for the farmers.

“Like police handling traffic accidents, the environmental authority should look into the alleged pollution, identify those responsible and present its finding so that the aggrieved party could use it as evidence to claim compensation,” he said.

His clients launched the appeal at a higher court requesting a ruling that would require the environmental authority to look into the incident and hold those responsible to account.

The number of individuals taking on polluters and environmental regulators in China over water and air pollution has been on the rise in recent years. But very few have succeeded in establishing a link between pollution and damages incurred in terms of medical bills, lost crops and livelihoods. That’s because many have difficulty accessing emissions or waste-disposal data from companies and local environmental authorities. There have also been several instances in which doctors or experts have been reluctant to come forward to offer evidence.

For example, Feng Jun, a fish farmer in the northern province of Hebei who is suing local environmental authorities for negligence after two of his daughters were diagnosed with leukemia and one died in 2006, said doctors refused to provide a written statement or appear in court despite saying severe water pollution may have led to cancer in both girls.

Feng is now suing the local environmental authority for allowing two steel manufacturers to start operations near his home without proper environmental clearance in 2004 and 2006. These plants had allegedly released tons of untreated wastewater into a river that runs through his area, polluting sources of drinking water, according to Feng’s court filing.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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