Pollution fight's fallout
Despite China's efforts to tackle its air pollution problem, it is still suffering from bad air. Shijiazhuang, capital of North China's Hebei Province, is the country's most polluted city. Recently, the local government ordered all factories in the city to suspend production to reduce air pollution there. The move drew criticism from companies with factories in the city, specifically those in the pharmaceutical industry. Company representatives complained that the suspensions are a blunt, one-size-fits-all solution that will have severe consequences for their bottom lines. Experts agreed, but noted that the measures might just be necessary to deal with China's stubborn and severe air pollution.
Bu Jibo looks worried these days.
The executive, whose company supplies ingredients to major pharmaceutical manufacturers in Shijiazhuang, capital of North China's Hebei Province, doesn't know when the local government will allow his company to resume production.
And the wait is killing him, or at least, his business.
"The authorities have not told us why we must suspend production or when we can restart it," a visibly upset Bu told the Global Times on Wednesday. "Our production follows the country's laws and regulations."
Even if the local Shijiazhuang government hadn't suspended his company's production, his company still wouldn't have buyers for its products.
Two of its major customers, -Shijiazhuang-based CSPC -Pharmaceutical Group Ltd and North China Pharmaceutical Co, also had to temporarily halt operations last week under the local government's latest crackdown on air pollution.
The local government specifically ordered the suspension of all pharmaceutical production to fight against pollution, according to a filing posted by CSPC on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on November 21. The factories are not allowed to resume production until approved by the Shijiazhuang government, said the filing.
It is hard to tell if the suspension can improve air quality, said Zhang Yunxuan, a researcher with Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Discharges from pharmaceutical manufacturing can damage the environment, especially from the production of synthetic drugs, created using man-made chemicals, as opposed to natural ingredients, Zhang told the Global Times on Thursday.
Drugs in the air
While walking along the Heping Road in the industrial center of -Shijiazhuang, local resident Li Jian usually smells chemicals.
The stench comes from production of synthetic drugs, including some antibiotics, said Li, who worked in a local pharmaceutical plant for years.
He said that the waste gas from antibiotic drugs production is harmful to human beings.
"Workers who produce these kinds of drugs are frequently transferred to other production lines to limit the damage to their bodies," Li told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Beijing, a three-hour drive away from Shijiazhuang, has also been affected, according to a paper published in October in the journal Microbiome by researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Beijing's smog harbored the highest concentration of antibiotic resistance genes of about 64 different types, as well as the highest bacterial richness of any environment, according to the paper.
Hebei has long been a major manufacturer of chemical pharmaceuticals. It produced 446,000 tons of chemical pharmaceuticals in 2015, down 11.6 percent from 2014, according to data from Hebei Provincial Bureau of Statistics.
"Homegrown CSPC and North China Pharmaceutical combined supply more than half of the country's antibiotics," a drug distributor, who only gave his surname Ma, told the Global Times on Thursday.
A long campaign
The fight against the pollution generated by Hebei's pharmaceutical industry has been going on for a while.
Earlier this year, local authorities set up a special team to investigate the alleged pollution of 10 subsidiaries of North China Pharmaceutical.