Yangtze River Pollution Imperils Hundreds of Millions

November 20, 2011 Updated: December 11, 2011
Two workers clean up trash along the bank of the Yangtze River near the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, in central China's Hubei province on Aug. 1, 2010. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The banks of China’s Yangtze River are crowded with chemical factories, which dump massive amounts of toxic waste water into the river, affecting hundreds of millions of people who rely on the river for drinking water. Nevertheless, a Chinese official recently stated that the Yangtze’s water quality “overall is good and can be used safely.”

According to a recent Economics Information Daily report, latest data from the Yangtze River Water Resources Protection Bureau says that the total polluted water discharged into the Yangtze exceeded 33.9 billion tons this year and is increasing at a rate of 2 percent per year.

Data released by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection last December said there are over 10 thousand chemical factories, five major steel manufacturing centers, and seven major oil refineries along the banks of the Yangtze.

The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia, measuring 6,300 km. It contains 40 percent of China’s water resources and flows through 11 provinces and regions, with around 550 million people living on its banks.

He Chunyin, director of Jiangsu Environmental Protection Bureau, told Ningbo Daily, the majority of cities along the Yangtze get their drinking water from the Yangtze. If the river is polluted, then there is no other water source. Many new chemical factories are now operating in the middle and western regions of China, but since these regions are less developed, there is not much regulation. Consequently, the polluted water will be discharged into the river, affecting the downstream, he said.

Hazardous Cargo

The transport of hazardous cargo also frequently causes river pollution.

The Nantong City Maritime Bureau told Economic Information Daily that 300,000 tons of dangerous cargo has passed through Nantong each day since 2003. This includes crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas, fuel oil, benzene, alcohol, and other flammable and toxic petrochemical raw materials. Over 70 percent of these are classified as substances that are highly polluting and highly toxic according to the International Convention on Prevention of Pollution from Ships.

Xue Jianjun, deputy director of the Nantong Maritime Bureau said some of these dangerous river cargo chemicals are water soluble, and one can only rely on the dilution effect for cleanup. Of the chemicals that are not water soluble, those that are heavier than water will sink to the bottom, he said.

“But once these hazardous chemicals enter the water, there are really no effective measures for dealing with them. Any leak could affect Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, and other major cities. If a spill occurs, the consequences can be disastrous,” Xue said.

On March 15, a cargo ship got into an accident and spilled 100 kg of styrene into the Yangtze, forcing the downstream Wuxi and Changzhou water plants to shut down. Citizens in those two cities had to rely on bottled water supplies.

Official Denial

With such massive pollution, water quality has become an issue of major concern for the Chinese public while officials are trying to play it down or turn a blind eye.

Zang Xiaoping, deputy director of the Yangtze River Water Resources Protection Bureau, told Wuhan Evening News there wasn’t much to be worried about. The annual flow of the Yangtze River is nearly 1 trillion tons. 30 billion tons of polluted water will not cause much harm, except create some sectional pollution, he said.

“Overall water quality is good, and can be safely used,” he said.

Chinese netitizens have a different view.

A post on the club.kdnet forum said: “The annual water flow of the Yangtze River is around 951.9 billion, compare to 33.9 billion ton of water: 339/9519 = 3.56 percent. Isn’t this pollution level too high?”

Another person said, “So 3 percent of polluted water, that means 15 ml in a water bottle, how is that safe?”

Bribing Inspectors

In April, the Chinese Academy of Engineering and Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection jointly issued China’s environmental macro strategy research report. The report said that nearly half of China’s drinking water does not meet drinking water standards. 190 million people are drinking water with excessive levels of harmful substances. More than 90 percent of cities’ groundwater supply is contaminated.

The many kinds of pollutants also make water purification very difficult. An employee at a water plant in southwestern China told The Epoch Times, there are over 60 different types of chemicals in the drinking water, making it very hard to purify. However, due to the scarcity of water resources and water reserves, even if the water is not fit for drinking, as long as there is no acute major chemical poisoning situation, authorities will not shut down water supplies due to fear of causing social instability.

Another staff in charge of water quality testing told The Epoch Times, whenever people come from the water quality test center to inspect water quality, the water plant will give them special treatment. Every inspector gets a red envelope with money in it.

“So as long as no major incident happens, everyone will keep one eye open, and one eye closed,” he said.

Read the original Chinese article.

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