“We moved here in January 2020, and my eldest son suffered five nosebleeds. The latest was at the end of April. My younger child gets mouth ulcers almost every month, and me and my other relatives also get mouth ulcers every month and we suffer from frequent dizziness and headaches,” Lin Yuwei, who lives in Zhongjian Jiahecheng community near the factory, told NewsChina. She added that the symptoms disappeared when they went on holiday in early May, resumed and got even worse when they returned. An informal survey conducted by and among parents in the vicinity before April 2022 claimed that almost 700 children had experienced nosebleeds for unknown reasons. There is no way to back up these claims.
Yuhua District government officials called an emergency meeting on May 8 to address emissions from the BYD Changsha plant, particularly the automobile painting process. The same afternoon, authorities in Changsha City sent a team to the factory to investigate the complaints. The team included people from government departments, third-party testing institutions and chemical experts.
In response to an inquiry for comment from NewsChina, as of late May, Changsha City Bureau of Ecology and Environment said the investigation was ongoing and the municipal government will disclose the results once concluded.
This spring, Wu Lijia’s 8-year-old daughter had three nosebleeds in 40 days. The family lives in the same Zhongjian Jiahecheng community as Lin’s family. In mid-April, a teacher from her daughter’s school, Shazitang Jiahe Primary School, learned that up to 21 children out of the class of 40 had nosebleeds. A teacher at the school with over 30 years of experience said he had never seen so many children get nosebleeds at the same time.
Chen Zhen, who lives in the nearby Jinghuan Community, told NewsChina that his 6-year-old son who attends Jiatanghe Primary School had nosebleeds twice in the past month. In a WeChat group of some 400 people in the community, parents said over 100 children, mostly preschoolers, had nosebleeds with no apparent cause.
According to Chen Zhen, over 80 percent of the group claimed to have experienced sore throats. Chen’s teenage son had swollen lymph nodes in March, and despite taking medication, his sore throat lasted for weeks. Chen said he and his wife had similar symptoms, but when he went away on business, he felt better and his symptoms abated, but his wife at home still had a sore throat.
Like other parents sharing similar experiences, Wu Lijia related the symptoms many claimed to the pungent smell that permeates the neighborhood.
Her family moved to Zhongjian Jiahecheng in 2020, and later that year she noticed a foul odor, which smelled like a mixture of paint and burning. The situation worsened in March. Wu said one of their neighbors bought a handheld air detector to monitor the air quality. The results indicate that total volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air reached 1.015 mg per cubic meter, and sometimes hit 1.898 mg per cubic meter, two or three times the national safety standard of 0.60 mg per cubic meter for ambient air.
VOCs refer to compounds emitted from solids or liquids and turn gaseous, meaning they are lighter than air at room temperature. VOCs are responsible for everyday smells like perfume and cleaning chemicals. They have natural sources – 90 percent of VOCs are produced by plants, animals and microorganisms. Other VOCs are artificial or anthropogenic, and include an array of chemical products, including glue and paint. They can be emitted from new furniture, carpets and scented candles, as well as cooking and frying processes.
Community members allege the source of the pungent odor is the BYD factory. Sun Hun from Zhongjian Jiahecheng Community told NewsChina that it sits to the north of the BYD factory, and the paint and glue smell is extremely strong in spring, when southerly winds blow.
Residences and schools surround the BYD factory. According to the Environmental Impact Report for BYD Changsha’s Stamping, Welding and Painting Technical Renovation Project compiled by Changsha Non-ferrous Metallurgy Design and Research Institute in 2021, there are 13 residential areas and six schools that should be covered by the 19 “air environment” protection targets in the report.
According to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, the approval required the painting workshop boundary to be 400 meters away from any new environmentally sensitive buildings such as homes and schools. However, the factory is only 40 meters from the west side of Jinghuan Community.
“The BYD painting production line releases toxic gases at night, generally around 10:30 pm,” said an online complaint on the Hunan online political inquiry platform. Since April, online complaints multiplied. Comments included: “The pungent smell permeates the whole community, and we could not open the window,” “The smell which is like burning tires or glue is very uncomfortable, disgusting and makes people feel nauseous and dizzy,” “The lives and health of hundreds of thousands of residents in the surrounding residential compounds are thus threatened,” and “We’d like to hope relevant departments could find the source of the odor.”
Jinghuan Community was approved by Changsha municipal government in 2006, and Shazitang Jiahe Primary School opened in 2001, both much earlier than the BYD Changsha project. Homeowners in Zhongjian Jiahecheng moved in at the end of 2018, well after the plant started operating.
Already by 2016 there were complaints from residents who said there was a pungent smell at night. In 2018, a central government team went to Hunan Province to review environmental protection. During the visit, hundreds of residents from Jinghuan Community filed complaints about alleged emissions of hazardous waste gas from the BYD plant. The company promised to stop production and move the foundry. The smell that had plagued residents disappeared. “Yet after just six months, a different stinky smell came again and it continues right up to now,” a Jinghuan Community resident told the reporter. Residents point the finger at the paint workshop.