| BEIJING, April 18
BEIJING, April 18 China has launched an intense
media campaign to defend the safety of producing a chemical used
to make polyester fibre, as public opposition to new
petrochemical plants threatens to disrupt expansion plans by
state energy giants such as Sinopec Corp.
Choking smog and environmental degradation in many parts of
China is angering an increasingly educated and affluent urban
class and after a series of health scares and accidents there is
deepening public scepticism of the safety of industries ranging
from food to energy.
Illustrating this distrust, hundreds of residents in the
southern Chinese city of Maoming demonstrated this month against
plans to build a petrochemical plant to produce paraxylene,
known as PX, a chemical used in making polyester fibre and
The plant is backed by the local government and China's
biggest refiner, state-controlled Sinopec Corp.
China is the world's largest producer and consumer of PX and
polyester, vital for the country's textile industry, which
generated $290 billion of overseas sales, or 13 percent of
China's total exports last year, according to customs data.
State television, CCTV, last week aired six short features
showing staff reporters visiting petrochemical facilities in
Japan, South Korea and Singapore producing PX in a bid to assure
the public over safety.
China's state-dominated oil and petrochemical sector has had
a poor safety record in the last decade.
Accidents have included a gas well explosion in the
sprawling municipality of Chongqing in 2003 that killed 234, a
2005 chemical leak into a river in Jilin that poisoned drinking
water and a pipeline explosion in Qingdao that killed 62 last
"The reason why the industry has lost credibility is not
that it hasn't carried out public relations or education work
properly, but because of repeated accidents," said Ma Jun, head
of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, an
independent environmental group.
China still relies heavily on importing PX. Last year, China
imported just over 9 million tonnes worth about $18 billion,
mainly from South Korea, Singapore and Japan, exceeding domestic
output of 8.3 million tonnes.
There have been demonstrations in six Chinese cities since
2007 against plans for PX plants, forcing at least one plant to
relocate and another two to be shelved or cancelled.
The state media campaign on television and online has sought
to reassure the public over the safety of PX.
One CCTV broadcast showed a middle-aged man taking a stroll
at a beachside park in Singapore, across from the city state's
chemical hub of Jurong Island, saying he liked walking in the
park because "the air there was fresh".
A CCTV story headlined "Telling you the truth on PX" said
that countries such as the United States did not treat PX as a
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says effects from
exposure to the xylene group of chemicals derived from refining
oil - including mixed xylene and paraxylene - can range from
nose and throat irritation to memory impairment, though they are
not classified as cancer-inducing.
Cao Xianghong, a former senior vice president at Sinopec,
told a government-backed conference of nearly 300 participants
on PX that the petrochemical industry had to share some of the
blame for the public concerns, particularly in the way safety
and environmental issues have been managed.
"The serious pollution cases and accidents that the industry
has had have naturally scared people," Cao said at the PX forum
last week organised by the China Association for Science and
(Addtional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Ed Davies)