The environmental footprint of Fujian Dingxin Industry Ltd

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Company Background[edit | edit source]

Fujian Dingxin Industry Ltd. is a leading company based in Fu’an, Fujian province producing nickel pig iron (NPI) and stainless steel. It is part of the conglomerate TsingShan Holding Group. The same group also engages in nickel-chrome alloy smelting and owns the laterite nickel ore mine covering 47,000 hectares in the Sulawesi island of Indonesia.

Fujian Dingxin was founded in 2008 and was known for its rotary electric furance (RKEF) techonlogy in the ferronickel smelting process. According to Wang Haoyang, a nickel analyst at Shanghai Metals Market (SMM), Fujian Dingxin was already the NPI producer with the lowest production cost in China back in 2013.

Fujian Dingxin main focus now is the Tsingtuo nickel alloy production base. The total investment is 1.8 billion Yuan, with an annual output of 300,000 tons of nickel alloy, 600,000 tons of stainless steel billet, 1 million tons of hot rolled coil, and 1 million tons of pickling annealing. With more than 3,000 employees, the company has an annual output of over 10 billion yuan. The construction of this particular project has been completed and put into production.

Like most other heavy metal companies, Fujian Dingxin suffers from tremendous environmental issues. Over the years, the company has made multiple appearances on the Environmental Protection Bureau’s watch list and on the local government’s notice boards regarding environmental violations.

Heavy metal pollution in Fujian province[edit | edit source]

Situated on the southeast coast of mainland China, Fujian province attracts many investments, including from the heavy metal industry. As such, the province has a long-running problem with soil contamination. The areas that were polluted are mainly found near mines and factories with large industrial operations.

Base on a research published on Journal of Argo-Environment Science in 2009, heavy metal pollution was at critical levels in the estuary wetland of the Min river. Since 2009, the pollution has only gotten worse.

The “Twelfth Five-year Plan for Comprehensive Prevention and Control of Heavy Metal Pollution” that acknowledged the need to better monitor and to downsize the heavy metal producing industry sector was announced in 2011. In late November 2015, The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) conducted an assessment in 28 provinces regarding the implementation of this plan. While most areas have shown improvements, the Fujian province was actually the worst performing of the batch: its heavy metal pollution had actually gone up since 2007. Fujian Dingxin has definitely contributed to this regression. Fujian Dingxin has been punished by the local environmental protection bureau at least seven times, twice in 2013, four times in 2014 and once in 2015.

Furthermore, The Fujian Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau reported environmental violations in Fujian Dingxin’s practices in late November 2015. It found issues with the rain and sewage collection. There were also large amounts of untreated desulphurization slag and water quenching slag left out in the open in a small yard.

Contamination in water[edit | edit source]

Collecting sample
Nickel could be toxic and is carcinogenic when overdosed in water and Fujian’s sea and water resources have been surely suffering from this. Several photos taken between June 11th -13th, 2015 next to Fujian Dingxin phase III site provide a better overview of Fujian Dingxin’s nickel pollution in water.
The map of nickel refineries
Pier 14

On June 13th, next to Fujian Dingxin’s pier 14 at Wanwuzhen, a bulldozer is pushing the residue into reed marshes. This area used to be a shoal and was later requisitioned by the company. As the photo shows, it is abundantly clear that no protective measures were taken. In fact, a group of villagers took it upon themselves to raise awareness of the company’s practices: they collected a sample of the solid white waste residue, which was then taken to Beijng for examination. The test result came out four days later, showing that mercury levels exceeded the standard by a factor of 10. What’s more, it’s highly possible that the waste residue drifted along in the air and also infiltrated the harbor nearby.

Upon closer inspection of pier 14, reporters found sewage flowing straight into the sea from two directions: one appeared to be dark in color, while the other seemed to be of a whitish hue. At the same pier, a large number of residual red clay ore dust was found near the dock, while the water used to clean the nickel ore transport vehicles was poured directly into the sea. These transports violated the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements as well.
Making matters worse, due to sea contamination, Yicheng Lan, a villager from Longzhucun, Wanwuzhen said the gracilaria algae planted by the fishermen was nearly wiped out. Consequently, the amounts of fish species in the nearby sea and seaweed production have also dwindled. Ningde, a city in Fujian used to be the home to large yellow croakers is the best example of industry groups choosing their bottom line over the environment. As seen in the map, the large yellow croaker protected areas were just next to Dingxin and other nickel companies’ plants – their numbers have decreased markedly.

A 70-year-old man who lives in the sanitation area next to the Fujian Dingxin’s Phase III refinery told reporters that ‘people’ came to examine the water quality of the well in front of his house. He was told afterwards not to use the water from the well because it was contaminated, but the cause was not revealed.

After a series of news coverage of this incident, environmental NGOs in China finally started to act. On July 8th, 2015, the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) filed a public-interest litigation against both Fujian Dingxin, and the Fujian Provincial Environmental Science Research Institute at the Xianmen Maritime Affairs Court. The Foundation urged Fujian Dingxin to immediately stop developing Phase II of the project and to shelve plans for a planned Phase III. At the same time, Fujian Dingxin was asked to begin clean up work in the affected regions.

Through rapid coordination, the parties accepted the recommendations of the mediation before the statutory filing period expired. On August 11th, Fujian Dingxin made a preliminary settlement agreeing to conduct environmental remediation measures. On September 23rd, the Ningde City Environmental Protection Bureau said it would be resposnbile for supervising the works. On October 28th, Fujian Dingxin proposed an environmental remediation program. The case was successfully closed on May 5th, 2016.

Fujian Dingxin and the Environmental Impact Assesment ( EIA)[edit | edit source]

With one hand polluting the environment, and the other hand forging a list of participants for the public Environmental Impact Assesment Questionnare of its project, Fujian Dingxin has so far done all it could to make sure its phase II and III projects carry on without a hitch.

In June 2016, before the hearing of the Fujian Dingxin phase III project, the representative of local residents reviewed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of phase II project. They found that all the names speaking on behalf of their community were not actually from their community. It’s no wonder that the assessment found that 99% of residents were happy with phase III going forward.

After going through the list name by name, they found that more than half of the people were not local residents, and a considerable number of people do not actually live in the area. Some of the participates were even employees of Fujian Dingxin. In fact, the local officials knew about the trick beforehand, but were told not to say a thing. Therefore when the project hearing for Phase III happened, the local group accused Fujian Dingxin of large-scale fraud on their EIA.

Investigative journalists also found that Phase III had already broken ground, half a year before going through the EIA. This was part of a trend with the company: both Phase I & II of the Fujian Dingxin project ignored their respective EIAs and went ahead even after being penalized by the Ningde City Environmental Protection Bureau for skirting the approval process.

Old habits die hard. Two months later, on August 19th, 2016, the company was again caught by the local environmental protection bureau for illegally upgrading the Phase III second production line from 60,000 tons of high nickel ore (and 30,000 tons of sulfuric acid) to a staggering 240,000 tons of high nickel ore (and 120,000 tons of sulfuric acid). No EIA was conducted. What’s more, while the facility built furnace gas cooling, dust purification, dry suction and other protective measures, they were not turned on. Fujian Dingxin was fined with 270,000 yuan and told to suspend its production until all relevant procedures were filled.

False accusation on evironmental activists[edit | edit source]

During the investigation of Fujian Dingxin’s environmental wrongdoing, two NGO environmental activists, Xu and Tian, were taken away by Jiaocheng District’s police from their hotel at 5 am, on December 3rd, 2015. They were arrested on suspicion of being prostitutes.

As Xu recall, this wasn't the first time he was involved in such an ‘incident’. Xu has spent seven months in Ningde city for research purposes. He tried to rent a place in city, but was asked to leave by the landlord within three days on the grounds that he had been pressured not to rent the room to him. Xu and local volunteers were also followed by vehicles that tried to track them, and seemed to want to run them over. A drone that was given to them by environmental organizations was also confiscated.

Mao da, the head of the Nature University Fund , told a Caixin reporter that before the police took Xu away, he was working on industrial pollution and wetland damage in Ningde City, Fujian. 

Dongjian, the head of Tianjin lulling (an environmental NGO) said they were also concerned about nickel pollution in Ningde, Fujian. Therefore, they arranged for Tian to travel to Fujian on December 1st and work with Xu to document Fujian Dingxin’s clean up works in the area.

On December 2nd, the refinery marked down Tian’s ID number upon Xu and Tian’s visit. The next day, the police rounded them up. Dongjian said that ever since Xu participated in exposing Fujian Dingxin and other nickel companies’ pollution, he became a “sensitive person”. Upon their release on December 4th, they were told by the police to never ever step foot in Ningde City again. The police seemed to be quite serious about it, as the two activists were sent directly to the train station and put on the first high speed train to Beijing.