September 20th, 2011
04:27 AM GMT
Hong Kong (CNN) – The lights are out at Jinko Solar. After three days of sometimes violent protests, China closed one of the company’s solar panel manufacturing plants.
The place: the town of Haining, about a two-hour drive southwest of Shanghai.
The reason: residents allege Jinko’s plant caused a mass die-off of fish and a cluster of cancer cases, including leukemia, in the local populace.
The admission: Jinko Solar now says pollutants, with fluoride levels exceeding normal limits, may have washed from its factory into a nearby river because of improper storage.
Anger first erupted on Thursday when more than 500 people gathered outside Jinko’s factory gates demanding answers. Some protesters broke into the company compound, overturning several cars and damaging buildings.
By Monday, local police said they had detained more than 20 people - some protesters for stealing and a handful of Jinko employees for destroying the camera of two local journalists - and local officials had forced the factory to go dark.
It appears that was a long time coming.
According to local environmental authorities, Jinko had failed an environmental standards test in April. It had also been fined RMB 470,000, or nearly $75,000. A test of the river further proved its water was polluted but Jinko’s operations were not halted - until Monday.
Villager frustration would be understandable.
Along with that emotion on the streets, it also came to a boil online on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
A few messages convey the mood.
@yihaoyanzi wants authorities to be more responsive and responsible.
“Everyone is following the Jinko issue…can the progress and result of the incident, especially the final rectification plan be released in time? It’s the era of internet. When the people have new demand for the government, the government should respond actively.”
@buguoshiyizaidechengqiang had a simple message for the solar panel factory. “Get out of Haining, Jinko.”
And @fendouhua anticipated Jinko Solar would hemorrhage losses because of its alleged environmental damage. “Jinko Energy itself will pay a heavy price for its pollution problem. If its stock price falls 7-8% everyday, even with 10 billion RMB capital, it won’t last long. Therefore, the company should strictly obey relevant laws and regulations.”
And that last message couldn’t have been more appropriate. Since Thursday, when protests began, the share price of Jinko Solar’s parent company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has fallen 13.2%.
Helena Hong in Beijing contributed to this report.
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