Fujian Donggang C9 chemical spill

From ToxicLeaks

History of Fujian Donggang[edit | edit source]

Fujian Petrochemical Company Ltd. (FPCL) is a large Chinese corporation based in Quanzhou City in Fujian Province, a port city tucked into a bay at the northernmost edge of the South China Sea at the Taiwan Strait. It is jointly owned by the regional government of Fujian and Chinese oil giant Sinopec. The FPCL holds a 50 percent interest in Fujian Refining & Petrochemical Company Ltd. (FREP), with ExxonMobil China and Saudi Aramco Asia each holding a 25 percent stake. Operations are concentrated along the Fujian coast, where it is producing more than seven million tons of petroleum products per year, as well as some 1.6 million tons of plastics and 1.8 million tons of chemicals. In addition to diesel, jet fuel and gasoline, chemicals include polyethylene, petroleum benzene, xylene and heavy aromatics.

Among the latter are C9 hydrocarbon aromatics. They are used in a wide range of applications, to make automotive lubricants, polishes, adhesives, vehicle antifreeze, paints and other products. They are not meant to poison entire fishing villages, which is what happened to the 8,000 people living in Xiaocuo. The FPCL also held a stake in Fujian Donggang Petrochemical Storage Company Ltd., a joint venture to operate terminal facilities with Fujian Dehe Group, which is reported as the current owner. It is this company, in the web of Chinese petrochemical corporations, responsible for Fujian’s toxic disaster.

November 2018 chemical spill[edit | edit source]

On November 4, 2018, nearly seven metric tons of C9 aromatics were dumped in the sea when a transfer hose connecting a vessel to land failed and began spilling its contents. The leak happened shortly after 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Local officials issued a statement and said they had cleaned up the spill by Monday, but residents and media outlets disputed official accounts amid ongoing impacts.

Health and environmental hazards[edit | edit source]

The first people affected were fishermen in Xiaocuo, who saw the yellow chemical taint on the waters. Officials said it was oil, but they had seen oil leaks before and didn’t think so. The chemicals were eating away at plastic fishing equipment they were trying to save. They also were exposed to strong fumes that made them sick, so they had water samples tested themselves. The results showed the chemical was C9.

At least 52 people were hospitalized from exposure to the C9, which burned their hands when they were trying to clean up their equipment. Two fishermen were overcome by toxic fumes and had to be rescued from the sea; one of them nearly drowned and was critically ill after developing pneumonia.

Ten people remained in the hospital four days after the incident, which Chinese officials said caused a spill across 0.6 square kilometers. Despite government assurances of a contained area and cleanup, residents continued to report dizziness, nausea, vomiting and breathing difficulties. Xiaocuo residents also were angry at the lack of information provided to them on air quality, water safety and seafood.

“Local media were instructed not to report the leak,” said a journalist at Fujian Daily, speaking to the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “Four days after the leak on Sunday, we were told that we could report the news – but with a positive spin,” the journalist added.

Cleanup, recovery and accountability[edit | edit source]

Ten days after the C9 accident, Chinese authorities announced the arrest of seven people because of the toxic spill. Three of them were from Fujian Donggang Petrochemical, while the remaining four were crew members on the tanker where the C9 was being loaded. The Fujian Donggang Petrochemical firm immediately apologized for the incident and promised to compensate the fishing village for its losses.

Yet there are serious concerns about the long-term consequences in the village of Xiaocuo and beyond. Although local authorities issued an immediate ban on eating or selling seafood, they pronounced the waters safe for fishing just two days after the spill. That decision was inconsistent with even their own experts at Quanzhou Normal University, who said the C9 could pool into stagnant areas where it will remain, or attach to seaweed, fish, birds and other aquatic life. It also can accumulate in their organs.

More than 400 ships, 2,500 people, 732 bags of oil-absorbing felt and 70 barrels of oil-repellent agent were deployed during immediate cleanup efforts. Air quality monitoring showed levels back to normal just a few days after the incident. That still didn’t answer questions about the long term effects of the C9 exposure, and it does little to address the lack of trust among Chinese increasingly concerned about climate change and the country’s environmental record, and ever-more vocal in demanding real action.