China’s State-Run Media Tout Toxic Chemical

By Gu Xiaohua
Gu Xiaohua
Gu Xiaohua
June 30, 2013 Updated: June 30, 2013

Known as PX for short, para-xylene causes a set of nasty symptoms for those unlucky enough to ingest or breathe it, and the Chinese public has made clear they don’t want the chemical produced near where they live. The Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily recently sought to soothe public anger with an article claiming PX was no more carcinogenic than coffee, but has provoked scorn for its efforts.

Used in the production of polyester, short-term exposure to high levels of PX can cause “irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, difficulty in breathing, impaired function of the lungs, delayed response to visual stimulus; and possible changes in the liver and kidneys,” according to an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Exposure to very high levels can cause death.

Opposition to facilities producing PX has afforded some of the few instances of successful environmental protest in China.

Four years ago, protesters in the coastal city of Xiamen got city officials to move a PX factory to a less populated area.

In 2011, in the northeastern port of Dalian, large scale protests got city officials to agree to shut down a PX facility. Protesters were then set upon by armed police.

In October, 2012 approximately 10,000 residents are estimated to have joined an anti-PX protest in Ningbo City in Zhejiang Province in eastern China. Protesters and police clashed, with police cars overturned. Eventually plans for the factory were scrapped.

On May 4, 2013, citizens of Kunming City in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province rallied on the street to oppose a potential PX project. On May 16, after news broke of the local authorities’ decision to accept the project, thousands protested again. A violent conflict broke out between protestors and the police, with a large number of arrests being made.

On June 24, People’s Daily published “PX has been demonized—Unraveling PX’s secrecy.”
“According to the international standards, PX should not be treated as a hazardous chemical,” People’s Daily reported. “It is just a potential carcinogen like coffee that we drink everyday.”

Lu Dapeng, the spokesman of the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, was quoted as saying PX is a colorless, transparent liquid that is fragrant and tastes sweet.

China’s netizens were incredulous.

“Young Bo ab” from Harbin City in Heilongjiang Province said he had never heard anything like the People’s Daily report before . He questioned on what basis coffee is considered a potential carcinogen with carcinogenicity equivalent to PX.

A netizen named “PiKaPiKaPiKaChu” wrote, “Ho ho ho! Lack of knowledge is truly terrible! Don’t they know the anti-oxidant contents in coffee can actually prevent cancer? The report is totally misleading.”

“Jingwei” from Harbin City commented on that if this is the case, then why don’t we invite experts and political leaders for a cup of PX?

Translated by Leo Chen. Written in English by Stephen Gregory.

Read the original Chinese article.

Gu Xiaohua