7 jailed over handling of discarded oil tanks

Seven people have been jailed on charges of polluting the environment in a case that began with nine discarded oil tanks.

Seven people have been jailed on charges of polluting the environment in a case that began with nine discarded oil tanks, Minhang prosecutors said yesterday.

When a woman, Xu Hongfang, who ran an oil refinery, ceased business in 2014, she kept her huge oil tanks at 691 Tangpu Road in Minhang.

When the site was facing demolition in 2016, Xu and her brother-in-law Cao Xingquan decided to sell the oil tanks, despite the fact that the waste remaining in the tanks could pose environmental hazard.

The tanks were sold to a man named Gao Xinglong for 10,000 yuan (US$1,537). Gao and his friend Lou Zhaoshun signed a contract with Cao, but soon passed the tanks on to a scrap metal collector Chen Baofa for 18,000 yuan. 

Chen found out about the poisonous waste after buying the tanks. But instead of reporting it to the authorities, he sold them to another man Sun Manhui for 35,000 yuan. 

Sun tried to return the tanks after finding the poisonous waste inside but his plea was rejected. He then sold the tanks to another man Zhang Tongping for 40,000 yuan. 

In March 2016, Zhang hired several workers to help him “clean” the tanks. 

However, the court heard that they cut open the tanks without taking any precautions and poured the waste into holes they had dug in the ground. They then washed the steel plates they had cut from the tanks with water.

Large amounts of oil contamination permeated into the soil and nearby river. Ma Xiaoyan, an official with the Minhang procuratorate, recalled that scores of dead fish were found on the river and the smell of coal tar was “almost unbearable.” 

To reverse the damage to soil and water, according to the Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences, would cost up to 23 million yuan.

Xu and Cao were facing an administrative penalty at the time, but the Minhang procuratorate determined that the circumstances were far more serious.

“Environmental pollution is a very low-cost crime but would have a huge impact on nature as well as people’s lives,” said Ma, adding that the procuratorate would not tolerate such crimes.

Minhang prosecutors said all seven involved were aware of the pollution the waste might cause, but none had handled the waste legally, nor had they said the situation to the authorities.

Instead, the tanks passed through many hands at increased prices from which the criminals profited.

The seven received sentences from 33 months to four years last May. 

Last year, 94 people were arrested in 60 cases involving environmental protection issues. The majority faced charges of poaching, illegal fishing and illegal waste dumping.

Meanwhile, 164 people were arrested because of food safety issues in 2017.

In one case, a woman, Qiao Chunhua, in the Pudong New area purchased 31 tons of industrial salt — which can be lethal to humans — to make pickles as industrial salt is cheaper than edible salt.

Fortunately, a neighbor reported the matter to the authorities and Qiao was arrested before the pickles entered the market. She was sentenced to eight months in jail but with a year's reprieve.

Pudong prosecutors said Qiao had bought enough industrial salt to make about 7 tons of pickles, an item very popular in local shops. As a result the law should not go easy on Qiao, they said, though her crime caused no harm thanks to the neighbor and the prompt reaction of authorities.

Cases regarding environment pollution were centralized to the Shanghai Railway Transport Procuratorate in 2016. From this year, cases regarding food and drug safety will also be centralized and coordinated there.

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