The carcinogenic petrochemical paraxylene has been the subject of heated protests in China in recent months, but the state-run The People’s Daily wants citizens to know that it is basically harmless—and even possibly delicious.
In a full-page editorial, the newspaper quotes a spokesman for Sinopac, the country’s largest oil producer, as saying the chemical is “a transparent, colourless liquid with a fragrant smell, and even tastes slightly sweet.” People’s Daily also claimed that paraxylene, also known PX, was less harmful than coffee, and that there was “inadequate evidence to conclude that PX is carcinogenic.”
The tens of thousands of Chinese citizens who have protested plans to build PX factories in their cities would certainly disagree—as would the state-owned news agency Xinhua, which has called PX “a carcinogenic petrochemical used to create raw materials for the production of polyester film and fabrics.” The People’s Daily editorial coincides with the China-South Asia expo in Kunming, where protesters have tried to stop the construction of a PX facility.
Chinese social media users were incredulous. The South China Morning Post quoted one microblogger: “Can People’s Daily assure us that the production process of PX is completely non-toxic? As a party newspaper, coming to such a rash conclusion is obviously speaking for the [petrochemical] interest groups. This is irresponsible at a time when air pollution is so severe.”
Other users pointed out that it was not just the chemical they did not trust, but the management and safety records of the factories that made it. PX protests in Dalian were sparked when a protective dyke around an industrial complex was destroyed by rain and high waves. China has been plagued in recent months by a long series of industrial scandals, and trust in factory owners has plummeted. On the same day that the People’s Daily published its PX defense, six workers were critically burned in Shanghai’s second petrochemical plant fire in as many days.