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China's Slowly Disappearing Steel Plants

With a crippling combination of excessive air pollution and industrial over-capacity, China is slowly beginning to move away from the steel mill. 

The state government announced last year that it would reduce the country's iron and steel production by a third by 2017. Half of that reduction will take place in the industrial city of Tangshan, located in the northeastern province of Heibei. Many plants have already closed around the city, leading provincial government officials to finally demolish their remains as part of a plan they call "Operation Sunday." 

The closings and demolitions have been bittersweet for locals. The loss also means a loss of jobs. And while pollution is beginning to clear up, these facilities remain an environmental burden even after they shut down for good. The soil beneath them is toxic and water supplies are still suspect.

According to a report in the Chinese publication, Global Times, many of the plants were built on land rented from farmers. But it will be nearly impossible to return the land to its former use. As one man who wants to expand his flock of sheep into previously industrial property next door tells Global Times, "I think it will take many, many years." 

The seemingly inevitable shift away from factory life as China's dominant industry has only begun. Heavy industry has long been a defining part of the country's changing landscape, creating new jobs for many while compromising their health and Heibei and other northern provinces will notice the shift more than others. Below, a look in and around China's many steel plants:


A statue of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong is seen in front of smoking chimneys at Wuhan Iron And Steel Corp in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 6, 2013. (REUTERS/Stringer)


A laborer works inside a steel production factory in Dalian, Liaoning province, October 11, 2013. (REUTERS/China Daily)


A resident picks vegetables at a vegetable patch next to a smoking chimney of Wuhan Iron And Steel Corp, in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 6, 2013. (REUTERS/Stringer)


A worker operates a furnace at a steel plant in Hefei, Anhui province August 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Stringer)


A woman wearing a mask rides past smoking chimneys and cooling towers of a steel plant in Beijing, January 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Suzie Wong)


Employees work at a steel factory of Dongbei Special Steel Group in Dalian, Liaoning province January 18, 2013. (REUTERS/China Daily) 


Migrant workers collect steel for recycling at a demolished quarter at an abandoned steel plant in Wuxi, Jiangsu province September 26, 2012. (REUTERS/Aly Song)


An employee walks past columns of steel as she works at a steel production factory in Wuhan, Hubei province, August 2, 2012. (REUTERS/Stringer) 


Laborers work at a coking plant of a steel factory in Hefei, Anhui province August 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Stringer) 


A laborer works next to a furnace at a steel factory in Hengyang, Hunan province June 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Stringer) 


Workers work inside a control plant at the Jiuquan Iron & Steel Group in Jiayuguan, northwest China's Gansu province April 28, 2007. (REUTERS/Jason Lee)


Workers look at a ladle pouring molten iron into a container at a steel plant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province May 30, 2012. (REUTERS/Lang Lang)


A worker walks past a steam-driven boiler at the Shougang steel plant in Beijing January 22, 2009. (REUTERS/David Gray) 


People work at a foundry in Wuhu, Anhui province, April 7, 2008. (REUTERS/Jianan Yu)


An elderly man fishes near a cooling tower at the Shougang Group steel plant, on the outskirts of Beijing March 29, 2010. (REUTERS/Jason Lee) 


An employee works at the Ma'anshan Iron and Steel Company in Hefei, Anhui province March 6, 2009. (REUTERS/Jianan Yu)

Keywords: China

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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