Jinko Solar Jig

A solar panel maker which was targeted by violent protests over pollution from one of its factories in eastern China recently apologized and says that it will do what is necessary to clean it up. Jinko Solar Holding Co., which is the parent company of the factory in Haining city west of Shanghai, said that the first round of tests showed pollutants could have spilled into a nearby river.

The cops detained some twenty people after hundreds protested last week, some storming the factory compound and turning over cars. The fuzz said that the factory had failed to address other environmental complaints and that the protests followed mass fish deaths in late August.

Jinko Solar, whose shares are listed on the NYSE, says that the factory’s production was suspended though could likely resume within only a few days.

“The company will take all necessary steps to ensure that it is in compliance with all environmental rules and regulations. Any deficiencies in environmental protection uncovered will be immediately remedied…”

The Haining demonstration does well in reflecting the nasty side of clean energy. While the use of solar power may reduce the need for burning heavily polluting coal and other fossil fuels, the process of making photovoltaic cells utilizes various chemicals and materials that can also be toxic. The protests in Haining are the latest increasingly bold public reactions to environmental concerns after three decades of laxly regulated industrialization.

Protests in rural areas and smaller cities are often quashed or ignored. However, those in and near big cities like Shanghai appear to be having influence on leaders who have pledged to deliver an increasingly sustainable, healthy lifestyle along with job-creating growth.

Only last month, a protest by 12,000 residents in the northeastern port city of Dalian against a chemical plant drew a pledge by local officials to relocate the plant. Storm waves breached a dike who was guarding the plant, raising fright in the name of flood waters releasing toxic chemicals. Similar protests in 2007 in Xiamen was also successful. Then, down in Shanghai, the authorities suspended operations at one of the world’s biggest lead-acid battery plants, run by the United States-firm Johnson Controls Inc. after residents living in an industrial zone complained that the lead levels in dozens of children were many times above the legal limit. The firm says that it didn’t believe its factory was the cause of any unsafe lead emissions.

The city government reported on Tuesday that seven of seventeen lead-acid battery plants in the city of 23 million were ordered to stop production due to excessive lead emissions. Lead poisoning may hurt the nervous, muscular and reproductive systems. Children are especially at risk to irreversible damage, especially from low exposure levels. Officials even said that the city was expanding the tests to include even more children.

In the meantime, Shanghai’s Jinshan District, the site of a massive petrochemicals zone, says it had shut down 75 firms because of health risks from dangerous chemicals in a six-month safety campaign.