Farmer spends years suing factory for daughter’s death allegedly caused by pollution

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/1/12 19:23:39

A pond is formed by sewage discharged by several electroplating plants in a village in Langfang, Hebei Province. Photo: CFP

A sewage pipe of a factory Photo: CFP

A pond is formed by sewage discharged by several electroplating plants in a village in Langfang, Hebei Province. Photo: CFP

A pond is formed by sewage discharged by several electroplating plants in a village in Langfang, Hebei Province. Photo: CFP

With his tanned features, yarn cap, backpack and shoulder bag, 50-year-old Feng Jun felt extremely out of tune with the modern buildings around him in downtown Beijing.

A farmer from the Dachang Hui Autonomous County in Langfang, Hebei Province, he has travelled frequently in the past decade between his home and the capital, lodging complaints and filing lawsuits in a bid to uncover the truth about his daughter, who died from leukemia in June 2007 at the age of 17.

He believes the disease was linked to the pollution that came from two cold rolling strip plants located just 50 meters from his home. He has since spent most of his time taking up the issue with the factories in question and the authorities. Unable to bear his stubbornness any longer, his wife left him with their younger daughter in 2008.

"I just want an answer," Feng said.

"After graduating from junior high, I joined the army and became an armed police. My main job was guarding prisoners and escorting the condemned to the execution ground. I even applied to join the Party," he told the Global Times with some pride.

But when talking about the hardships he has suffered in the past decade, he became a picture of helplessness.

Feng Jun, a farmer who lost his daughter to leukemia Photo: Huang Jingjing/GT

Feng Jun, a farmer who lost his daughter to leukemia Photo: Huang Jingjing/GT

Shattered family

After leaving the armed forces, he got a job at the local land administration in his hometown. But when his second daughter was born, he was sacked for violating the family planning policy.

In 1998, he moved the family back to his village and rented 20 mu (1.3 hectares) of farmland. Within three years, they had turned the land into two ponds for raising fish and ducks and built a house next to them.

The family led a peaceful life until 2006, when his elder daughter was diagnosed with acute leukemia after showing a severe loss of appetite and swollen gums. The doctor hinted that it might be linked to the environment on his farm. Blood checks carried out on his younger daughter a few days later also showed abnormalities.

After investigating, Feng sent water samples from the 40-meter-deep well near the ponds which they had relied on for drinking to the authorities for inspection. The result showed that the water was not suitable for drinking, with the level of arsenic and manganese nearly four and five times the national standards respectively.

He found that the sewage pipes of the two cold rolling strip makers near their house went past their pools and reached a ditch before flowing into a river.

While seeking medical treatment for his daughters, he complained to environmental protection regulators. At his request, the county's environmental protection bureau tested the water from the plants' sewage outlets in October 2016, and said that the substances all met the required standards.

But Feng didn't give up. He turned to higher level regulators and other authorities. His persistence drew anger. When accompanying the county's epidemic prevention workers to collect samples from his well, four security guards from one of the factories assaulted him, according to the Beijing Youth Daily.

The attackers compensated him 10,000 yuan ($1,450) following police mediation. After he was discharged from hospital over 20 days later, he found that the well had been filled in.

The next year, his elder daughter died.

Dead end

He then started to learn all about the related regulations, collect proof and inquire about lawyers. In 2007, he compiled a list of nearly 30 people who had died of cancer in the last 10 years in Xiadian village and gave this information to the media. The ditch from which the two factories discharged their sewage had passed through the village.

He also found that both factories had been built and gone into production before attaining an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report. An EIA report released in 2004 said that there was no water source for 500 meters around and no heavy metal in its sewage.

But in truth, the family's well was just a dozen meters away and heavy metals had been detected in the factories' sewage by the county's environmental bureau.

Feng then was convinced that the organization had put together a false EIA report and failed to give sufficient warnings to the surrounding residents, making his family victims of the pollution.

Armed with his findings, he complained to the county, city and provincial-level environmental protection regulators. But they insisted the procedures the factory followed in drawing up the EIA reports were in line with the law. He then turned to the courts, which rejected his indictments, saying he was not qualified to sue.

In 2015, he sent a letter to the Ministry of Environmental Protection requesting an investigation into the two organizations which had allegedly made false EIA reports. But the response he got from the ministry was similar to those given to him previously.

Feng then took drastic action and sued the ministry. A court in Beijing docketed his filing and opened a hearing on November 10. Six representatives from the ministry showed up as defendants. Feng was by himself.

The ministry's attorney argued that he was not qualified for litigation as he had no direct stake in the treatment of the environmental assessment organizations.

"Why couldn't I be counted as a victim? Where did the heavy metal come from? Why did the judge not go to the site and check for himself," Feng said while leaving the court, according to Beijing Youth Daily.

To this day, he said he still has not received the ruling, and believes the chances of success are slim.

Feng survives by doing odd jobs here and there, and says that drinking and smoking help him relieve his grief.

"I won't give up," he said, noting that he was fighting for compensation not only for his deceased daughter, but also for the struggles of the last few years.

Newspaper headline: Father for justice

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