Greenpeace’s research team at the site of the Sichuan earthquake discovered a chemical plant with stores of the highly volatile chemical, concentrated sulphuric acid, as well as other toxic chemical wastes. Jiangyou City, where the plant is located, is right downstream from a possible flood caused by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Should the 98% concentrated sulphuric acid come into contact with water, it will result in explosions.
Greenpeace workers place signs at damaged chemical plants warning the public not to come near these hazardous areas
Dayang Concrete Admixture Company, the chemical plant in question, had been evacuated, with only one gatekeeper remaining. There was hardly any hope of immediate removal of the reactive chemicals from the premises.
"We notified the Ministry of Environmental Protection and its local monitoring agency about the situation." Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner Yue Yihua says.
The three-person Greenpeace research team was impressed when local environmental and security officers arrived within fifteen minutes.
"We were impressed with how swiftly they analyzed the situation and the efficiency with which they resolved the issue," Yue says. Ms Yang, director of the Jiangyou Environmental Protection Bureau, made phone calls to the owner of the plant and ordered that all hazardous chemicals be removed overnight.
To our relief, the chemicals were gone from the site when we visited the next morning.
Jiangyou Government has put up signs all over town, demanding a city-wide evacuation for fear of floods that could occur at any moment and would devour the entire city.
Greenpeace has visited dozens of chemical plants in the worst-hit areas, including Dujiangyan Qingbaijiang, and Shifang. Although most factories have complied with the government's suspension of all chemical production, there are individual small-scale factories that are ignoring the huge risks to the environment and human health and continue to operate. Yue Yihua says: "We demand that all these factories immediately cease production and remove their toxic chemicals. We have also posted warning signs in dangerous areas to warn the public not to come near these places."
Greenpeace is impressed with the government's quick response to the crisis. Greenpeace has offered to provide any and all support possible to identify and monitor environmental risks related to the earthquake. Greenpeace will continue to monitor the situation in Sichuan province. "We are hoping to warn people in advance of possible secondary environmental hazards in order to give those affected sufficient time to evacuate to safety," adds Yue.