After accusations of poisonous fumes being emitted from their factory, its business operates as usual behind a wall of silence at BYD’s suspect plant.
The front gate of the BYD Changsha plant in Hunan Province. Photo by Ge Zhenwei
By GE Zhenwei
Outside BYD’s Changsha plant on Tuesday night, I could clearly detect a “funny odor” in the air, though I couldn’t be sure where it was coming from. Soon I began to rub my throat. My nose was stuffed up. But it could easily be the dust from trucks rolling in and out of the north gate.
The BYD plant in Changsha is under a cloud following a spate of nosebleeds and dizzy spells among local schoolchildren. On May 7, the company angrily denied all accusations and has kept silent since. On May 8, The Changsha government began an investigation.
Jiemian News went to the plant, expecting it to be closed following reports that operations had been suspended, but from the outside, the plant seemed to work just fine. Workers said production was only reduced, not suspended, and not on every line.
When asked about the accusations, the workers we talked to were robustly skeptical. “Tens of thousands of workers have been working here for years, why aren’t they sick?” one of them said.
Production started in 2012. The plant covers almost 2 square kilometers and is surrounded by greenbelts. People living to the north of the plant said they often smell chemicals, but those to the south said they never smelled anything. Many property developers have land reserves near the plant. There is no other obvious source of pollution to be found. BYD has spent more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) on the plant.
In the residential compound 500 meters north of the plant where the first cases were reported, a resident said the local government had installed monitoring equipment a few days previously. The compound management has tried to address public concerns, but residents don’t trust the community committee. More than a dozen other complexes – home to more than 100,000 people - have also complained about the smell. The odor is worse since BYD upped production in March. BYD’s fiscal report suggested the company’s production in April grew 312 percent compared with last year.
Zhou, 14, has had nosebleeds three times in two weeks. “My kid does not get sick that often,” said his mother. “Many other kids have similar symptoms. We are very worried. Two kids who live nearby were diagnosed with leukemia last year. We raised money for them.”
In its statement issued on May 7, BYD was highly dismissive of what it called “vicious slander” and had reported the matter to the police. The next day, the district authorities began investigating.
In a recording provided to us by residents, BYD regional manager ZHU Bin admitted that there are odors caused by the emission control system. The company had spent 700 million yuan improving the system, he said. The new system is now being tested. It may take three months before the situation improves.
The plant is no stranger to such trouble. The various nauseating pongs were reported in 2016, 2019 and 2021. The plant has been instructed by the city’s ecology and environment bureau to rectify emission issues. In Shenzhen, where BYD is headquartered, similar problems continued for years until an inspection team from Beijing came in 2016.
BYD is quite public about how much it values the environment. The annual report states that all sites have passed environment assessments. The company founded a corporate social responsibility committee in 2008, declaring that “social responsibility is what keeps a company alive and competitive.”
Near the gate to the Changsha plant, I found a signboard with environmental information, including the phone numbers of the two persons in charge. Both numbers were dead.
I called BYD in Changsha, but no one answered. Apart from the brief threat to sue “rumormongers” on May 7, the company has remained silent.