Text Messages Stop Chinese Plant Construction

Construction was halted on Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd's $1.4 billion petrochemical paraxylene plant when one million text messages were sent protesting pollution.

BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese city has halted construction of a chemical plant after residents sent more than 1 million mobile phone text messages protesting possible pollution dangers, news reports said Thursday.

The $1.4 billion facility being built by Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd to produce the petrochemical paraxylene was planned for the booming southeastern port of Xiamen, the Xinhua News Agency and newspapers said.

''The Xiamen city government has decided to suspend construction of the PX (paraxylene) plant in Haicang District,'' a deputy mayor, Ding Guoyan, was quoted as saying by Xinhua. ''The city government has listened to the opinions expressed and has decided, after careful deliberation, that the project must be re-evaluated.''

Paraxylene is used in production of plastics, polyester and film. Short-term exposure to paraxylene can cause eye, nose or throat irritation in humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic exposure can affect the central nervous system and may cause death.

The plant was due to be located 10 miles from the center of Xiamen, a center for Taiwanese and Hong Kong investment. The nearest homes were one mile away, according to news reports.

Demand for chemicals such as paraxylene is soaring as China's export-driven manufacturing industries expand.

The communist government, long indifferent to the environmental cost of China's economic boom, has become more sensitive to pollution complaints after accidents that polluted rivers, disrupting water supplies to major cities. Farmers in areas throughout the country have protested over pollution that has tainted water supplies and ruined farmland.

Xiamen residents sent more than 1 million text messages protesting plans to build the plant, Xinhua said.

The suspension of the Xiamen project coincides with government efforts to slow an investment boom in industries where supplies of factories and other assets exceed demand.

Last week, a state news agency quoted officials who cited public concerns about radiation exposure in announcing the suspension of work on a futuristic magnetic-levitation train line in Shanghai that critics said was too expensive and impractical.

Irving, Texas-based ExxonMobil Corp.; Saudi Aramco, the Saudi government oil company; and China's No. 2 oil company, China Petroleum & Chemical Co., better known as Sinopec, announced in March they were expanding a joint venture chemical plant in the southeastern city of Quanzhou to produce paraxylene and other chemicals.

More in Operations