Fa­ther of jus­tice

Farm­ers spends years su­ing fac­tory for daugh­ter's death al­legedly fo­cus by pol­lu­tion

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Huang Jingjing

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.

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 mak- ers 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 as- saulted 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.

Pho­tos: CFP, Huang Jingjing/GT

A pond is formed by sewage dis­charged by sev­eral elec­tro­plat­ing plants in a vil­lage in Lang­fang, He­bei Prov­ince. Cir­cled: Feng Jun, a farmer who lost his daugh­ter to leukemia

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