A Chinese entrepreneur offered 200,000 yuan ($32,000) to any local environment agency official who can swim in a heavily polluted river for at least 20 minutes.
Jin Zengmin, the head of the Maoyuanchang Eyeglass Ltd. Co. in Hangzhou, “dared” a Zhejiang environmental chief to swim in an unnamed river that flows through Rui’an, a city located on the coast, through his Sina Weibo account recently. Jin said he used to swim in the river when he was a boy and his mother also washed his family’s clothes there.
But as the river became seriously polluted—a common trait shared by many bodies of water in China—more and more people started to get cancer, Jin claimed. He said the reason for the heavy pollution is likely due to the some 1,000 rubber shoe-making factories nearby, which dump in their waste.
Xu Yihua, who is head of the Rui’an Feiyun Environmental Management Administration, said that “Jin’s photos only show a small section” of the river, and is not an accurate reflection of the overall water quality, according to the state-run China Daily. The newspaper did not elaborate on when Xu saw the photos.
After Xu’s comment, Jin made him an offer of 200,000 yuan to swim or even walk in the river. “If Xu dares to swim in the river for 20 minutes, I will pay 200,000 yuan,” Jin wrote on Weibo.
Chi Renfu, with the Rui’an Environmental Protection Bureau, told China Daily that “household garbage, including plastic takeaway food packages and used Chinese New Year lanterns, were everywhere” along the river when it was inspected. However, he said that chemical waste from plants was not the issue, and blamed locals for dumping trash.
Last month, Voice of America reported that 40 percent of China’s rivers are “seriously polluted,” with around 1,700 water pollution accidents taking place each year. The U.S. government news agency cited a recent report in which chemicals contaminated a river in Shanxi Province, but it took local authorities five days to report the incident.
“Of the more than 100 rivers that there are now in Beijing, only two or three can be used for tap water–and those are the ones that the government in Beijing is protecting,” water researcher Zhao Feihong, with Beijing Healthcare Association, told VOA. “Those are the ones that we can use water from, the rest of the rivers if they have not dried up, then they are polluted by discharge.”
Zhao and her husband drew public attention recently after making statements that they have not drunk Beijing’s tap water in more than 20 years.
For years, Beijing officials did not release water quality statistics, saying they were state secrets, but recently started doing so. She said that while this was a welcome development, “I think that publicizing this figure is not enough.”
Air Pollution Lingers
In recent weeks, rampant environmental pollution in China has been on the minds of many Chinese. In January, Beijing and two dozen other Chinese cities were plagued with thick smog, with air particulate matter reaching alarmingly high levels per square meter.
On Monday, the Beijing News reported a return of moderate to severe levels of pollution in 74 cities. The report said that the smog was caused by bad weather and fireworks used to celebrate the Chinese New Year recently.
The state-run Xinhua news agency reported Sunday that in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province, the air quality index reached 500 micrograms per cubic meter on the PM 2.5 scale, which is used to measure particulate matter under 2.5 microns.
The World Health Organization says it is safe when the PM 2.5 is under 25.
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