Environmental fights drive China's Harbin to uproot drug factory

With neighbors and local officials raising a stink over strange odors and air pollution coming from its Harbin, China, facility, Harbin Pharmaceutical Group decided to relocate manufacturing to the city's outskirts.

Rather than try to remedy the problem, Harbin Pharmaceutical will fork over 700 million yuan ($110 million) to build a new factory in the Hulan Development Zone, located in the Harbin suburbs, a city official told state news agency Xinhua. Construction started in July and is expected to take about 17 months to complete.

Issues surrounding the plant go back years, but didn't come to a head until last year, when the Chinese pharma titan racked up 1.23 million yuan (nearly $200,000) in environmental violations. Chinese officials in the Heilongjiang province discovered exhaust gas discharge and the burning of toxic waste coming from the factory, traced back to high levels of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia gas in the air. Some living near the plant even claimed the air pollution was so bad, they contracted tracheitis, which is a bacterial infection of the windpipe, according to the National Library of Medicine. State broadcaster CCTV also reported the factory discharged wastewater containing twice the legal limit of a nitrogen compound into a nearby river.

When the factory was built back in the 1960s, according to Xinhua, the area surrounding it was undeveloped--that is, until residences began to pop up and families started to move in. Since then, Harbin has grown into China's second-biggest drugmaker by market value, producing traditional Chinese and Western medicines.  

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) recently decided to close a a 60-year-old API plant in Thane, Maharashtra, India, for some of the same reasons. The area around the plant, once all industrial, is now a "mushrooming residential" area, the company says. GSK decided to close the plant and lay off its 330 employees because the expense to upgrade it would mean it would no longer be cost competitive.

- here's the story from Xinhua

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