China firm apologizes for toxic waste after protest

HAINING, China (Reuters) - A solar panel company in eastern China at the center of violent protests over toxic waste apologized on Monday for the trouble it had caused and promised to clean up the mess.

The protests began on Thursday, when as many as 500 people stormed a compound owned by the New York-listed Jinko Solar Holding Co in Haining in the prosperous coastal province of Zhejiang, not far from China’s commercial hub of Shanghai.

Protesters overturned vehicles before being dispersed, after waste from the factory, which manufactures photovoltaic panels, cells and wafers, killed large numbers of fish in a nearby river, according to state media.

The China News Service said 20 people had been detained for public disorder offences, robbery and damaging property.

“Zhejiang Jinko has always paid a great deal of attention to environmental issues and complies with and follows the state’s relevant demands,” company spokesman Jing Zhaohui told a news conference.

“In the course of doing so, this incident still happened, and we cannot shirk responsibility for the legal consequences which have come from management slips,” he added. The company “sincerely apologizes” and would take “appropriate” steps to clear up the pollution.

Pollution has emerged as one of the biggest problems facing China’s ruling Communist Party, which has struggled to contain growing public anger against industries improperly dumping toxic waste.

Thousands of protesters forced the closure of a deadly paraxylene plant after marching on the city square in northeastern China’s Dalian in August.

State media has said that Jinko failed to bring the problem under control and the factory’s waste disposal facilities had been failing pollution tests since April.

Residents said they remained angry about the pollution and the way the case had been handled.

“Common people like us have no way of measuring the pollution. We don’t even know anything about whether there is any pollution,” said Shi Shuiqiang, 50.

“Since they set up their operations here, there has definitely been an impact on the villagers here. We do not know how our health will be in the future. This pollution is definitely harmful to us,” added Ren Suifen, 55.

Spokesman Jing also apologized for the “improper” treatment of some local reporters who had equipment smashed when they went to cover the protest, saying the people responsible had been fired and handed over to the law.

The official China Daily added that a villager surnamed Sun had also been detained for “dissemination of false information” for saying on the internet that villagers had suffered an unusually high incidence of cancer.

His accusations “caused considerable repercussions,” the report said.

Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie