(Adds denial from water company of cover-up in paragraphs 7-8)
BEIJING, April 15 A Chinese court has rejected a
lawsuit filed by five residents from a major northwestern city
after authorities said a cancer-inducing chemical had been found
in tapwater at 20 times above national safety levels, state
media reported on Tuesday.
Levels of benzene, a cancer-inducing chemical, in Lanzhou's
tap water rose 20 times above national safety levels on Friday,
forcing the city to turn off supplies in one district and warn
other residents not to drink tap water for the next 24 hours.
Monday's ruling is a setback for environmentalists, who have
argued that courts need to accept pollution lawsuits for proper
environmental reform to occur.
The lawsuit, filed on Monday afternoon, sought civil
damages, a public apology and data from water quality testing in
the past year from Lanzhou Veolia Water Co., a local unit of
French firm Veolia Environment, according to the Modern
Jinbao newspaper, citing Wu Tianying, one of the Lanzhou
residents who filed the suit.
The newspaper said a court in Lanzhou dismissed the lawsuit,
saying that the litigants did not qualify to sue, under Article
55 of the Civil Procedure Law. The article states that "only
agencies and organizations that are stipulated by the law" are
allowed to file pollution-related lawsuits.
State radio said on Monday that Veolia had discovered the
benzene spike on Thursday afternoon, but only reported it to the
city government the next morning, prompting a probe by the
Lanzhou Veolia Water Company's deputy general manager Yan
Xiaotao said there was no late reporting or cover-up, Xinhua
Yan said the company found abnormal levels of benzene during
an analysis on Thursday and reported it to the Lanzhou municipal
government, the state news agency said.
The water supply company, Lanzhou Veolia Water Co, is
majority-owned by the city government, with Veolia China, a unit
of Veolia Environment, holding a 45 percent stake.
The government has already blamed a crude oil leak from a
pipeline owned by a unit of China National Petroleum Corp for
the presence of benzene.
Lanzhou city authorities said on Friday they found 200
micrograms of benzene per litre of water. The national safety
standard is 10 micrograms.
Lanzhou, a heavily industrialised city of 3.6 million people
in the northwestern province of Gansu, ranks among China's most
Wang Canfa, an environmental law professor who runs the
Center for Pollution Victims in China, told Reuters before
Monday's ruling that courts rarely accept lawsuits filed by
people exposed to pollution.
"There are consequences to this, that is, if the courts
continue rejecting lawsuits, it will result in many people
seeking other ways (to make their case heard), such as
petitioning or staging sit-ins outside government offices," he
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Additional reporting by Li Hui;
Editing by Michael Perry)