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China’s First Environmental Public Interest Litigation Begins Court Proceedings

WASHINGTON DC

Friends of Nature (FON), a non-governmental environmental protection organization, and the Chongqing Green Volunteer Association’s public interest lawsuit, a first of its kind in China, began its court proceedings this week.

The two NGOs are joined in suit by Qujing city's environmental protection bureau.The parties filed the case in September 2011, with the city's Intermediate People's Court accepting it in October. Qujing city is located in Yunnan province in China’s southwest region.

“While other countries have allowed public interest litigation to be filed by NGOs, this case marks the first time that a Chinese court has permitted an NGO to proceed with a case alleging environmental damage,” Renee Martin-Nagle, an international environmental law expert with the US-based Environmental Law Institute, told OOSKAnews via email.

“However, since the two NGO plaintiffs were joined by a governmental agency in bringing the lawsuit, only time will tell whether this case will set a precedent giving an NGO independent standing to bring litigation without being accompanied by a governmental agency,” she added.

The plaintiffs demand some $1.58 million USD in compensation from Luliang Chemical Industry Co. Ltd. and Luliang Peace Technology Co. Ltd. for illegally dumping toxic chemicals, which lead to more than 5,000 tons of highly poisonous chromium polluting the Nanpan River, a major tributary of the Pearl River.

The Pearl River system with the Nanpan River in the west.

The toxic chemicals also found their way into the Chachong Reservoir after heavy rains, contaminating local water supplies, resulting in the loss of 77 head of cattle and possible increased cancer risk for local residents.    

Seven people associated with the spills that took place more than a year ago have already been sentenced to jail time by Qujing's Qilin District Court earlier this month.

On top of the monetary compensation, the plaintiffs are also calling for the companies to stop all activities that cause ongoing pollution and address possible damages resulting from stockpiles, which is thought to be more than 140,000 tons of chromium over the last 20 years that is currently being stored near the water source.

If the plaintiffs are successful, they will put the funds received into a newly established account to cover some environmental recovery costs. The Luliang Chemical Industry Co. Ltd. has cleaned up some 71,00 tons of chromium, but 135,000 tons remain.

Total costs of complete clean up are expected to reach some $36 million USD. However, the company is facing bankruptcy.

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