Residents want China plant moved over pollution

HAINING, September 20, 2011 (AFP) - Residents have called for authorities to move a polluting solar panel factory in eastern China, locals and media said Tuesday as anger simmered after days of violent environmental protests.

Authorities shut down the plant -- found to be emitting excessive levels of potentially toxic fluoride -- Monday after hundreds protested in Zhejiang province's Haining city, but locals are still concerned about their health.

"The plant should be knocked down. That's the only way to solve the problem," a young man living near the factory, who declined to be named, told AFP.

Zhou Jiuguan, who grew up in the area, also called for the plant to be relocated. "But with the money involved, it's impossible," he said.

State media reported that the 500 protesters who stormed the factory -- operated by the US-listed company Jinko Solar -- last week were demanding an explanation for the deaths of large numbers of fish in a nearby river.

On Monday, Haining's city government announced the temporary shut-down of the factory after tests showed it was emitting excessive levels of fluoride, which can be toxic in high doses.

The incident came just one month after authorities in the northeastern port city of Dalian agreed to relocate a chemical plant following similar protests, underscoring official concern over mounting public anger about pollution.

On Tuesday, the area around the plant in Haining appeared quiet, bar a single police road block leading up to the factory.

"Everything is toxic with regards to producing (solar) cells. It stinks whenever I pass by," the Oriental Morning Post cited a resident surnamed Wang as saying, adding that many locals were hoping the plant would be moved.

A spokeswoman for Jinko Solar -- quoting chief financial officer Zhang Longgen -- told AFP Tuesday that the firm "is not in the position to make the decision" on whether the factory should be relocated, without elaborating.

She insisted that facilities at the plant met environmental standards.

Jinko apologised on Monday for what it said had been a leak. Waste containing fluoride had been stored outside the factory, it said, but polluted a nearby river after heavy rains in late August.