KB Autosys, a company that produces brake pads for Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors and other domestic carmakers, has come under fire for illegally dumping pollutants near its Chinese plant and refusing to compensate for the damage.
Hyundai and Kia, which surpassed 1 million car sales in China last year, have raised concerns that the issue may tarnish their brand image.
According to Chinese media reports and environmentalists, KB Autosys has been polluting the land surrounding its Miyun county plant in suburban Beijing.
A few years ago, KB Autosys was sued by Liu Yuying, a local farmer, who discovered that the parts company dumped waste on her farmland. Liu had been leasing the land for 1 million yuan ($161,200) up until 2060. The case is currently pending at an appeals court after a district court in 2012 ruled that there was little evidence that the trees and plants on Liu’s land were dying due to the pollution caused by KB Autosys.
According to the court files, KB Autosys dumped hazardous waste in about 30 holes measuring about 30 meters deep. The waste was mostly powder from the leftover bits and pieces of brake blocks.
According to Beijing-based environmentalist group Nature University, the levels of antimony ― a brittle silvery-white metal ― found in the waste exceeded international level of 3.5-5 parts per million by 10,000 times. Activists claim that no grass can be found and poplar tree barks are scarred with cracks. Liu alleged that the secret dumping has been carried out for over three years and that it came to light when the local residents privately examined the plant grounds in September 2012.
“This is a serious case of chemical elements being dumped by a foreign company and ruining the land,” said Chen Nengchang, vice director of the Soil Pollution and Remediation Committee of the Guangdong Society of Soil Science, which inspected the dump site.
Activists are campaigning against the waste management problem, and against KB Autosys’ refusal to deal with the cleanup of the farmland. It has caused public fury, the China Daily USA reported.
KB confirmed disposing of the waste. Earlier, the Miyun environmental protection bureau imposed a 180,000 yuan fine on KB for irresponsibly disposing of trash, but nothing was paid out to Liu, which led to the lawsuit in 2012.
KB Autosys blamed its local subcontractor for mismanaging waste.
“Things have been settled in China,” a KB Autosys worker told The Korea Herald.
“The effect of the lawsuit on Hyundai and Kia seem negligible,” said a Hyundai Motor spokesman. “It happened to a very distant subcontractor and I don’t think it will hurt us,” he said, adding that the company has no plans to take measures against the case.
By Bae Ji-sook (email@example.com)