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Thread: Rivers Run Black, and Chinese Die of Cancer

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    Default Rivers Run Black, and Chinese Die of Cancer

    September 12, 2004

    THE GREAT DIVIDE | RURAL WASTELANDS

    Rivers Run Black, and Chinese Die of Cancer

    By JIM YARDLEY

    HUANGMENGYING, China - Wang Lincheng began his accounting at the brick hut of a farmer. Dead of cancer, he said flatly, his dress shoes sinking in the mud. Dead of cancer, he repeated, glancing at another vacant house.

    Mr. Wang, head of the Communist Party in this village, ignored a June rain and trudged past mud-brick houses, ticking off other deaths, other empty homes. He did not seem to notice a small cornfield where someone had dug a burial mound of fresh red dirt.

    Finally, he stopped at the door of a sickened young mother. Her home was beside a stream turned greenish-black from dumping by nearby factories - polluted water that had contaminated drinking wells. Cancer had been rare when the stream was clear, but last year cancer accounted for 13 of the 17 deaths in the village.

    "All the water we drink around here is polluted," Mr. Wang said. "You can taste it. It's acrid and bitter. Now the victims are starting to come out, people dying of cancer and tumors and unusual causes."

    The stream in Huangmengying is one tiny canal in the Huai River basin, a vast system that has become a grossly polluted waste outlet for thousands of factories in central China. There are 150 million people in the Huai basin, many of them poor farmers now threatened by water too toxic to touch, much less drink.

    Pollution is pervasive in China, as anyone who has visited the smog-choked cities can attest. On the World Bank's list of 20 cities with the worst air, 16 are Chinese. But leaders are now starting to clean up major cities, partly because urbanites with rising incomes are demanding better air and water. In Beijing and Shanghai, officials are forcing out the dirtiest polluters to prepare for the 2008 Olympics.

    By contrast, the countryside, home to two-thirds of China's population, is increasingly becoming a dumping ground. Local officials, desperate to generate jobs and tax revenues, protect factories that have polluted for years. Refineries and smelters forced out of cities have moved to rural areas. So have some foreign companies, to escape regulation at home.

    The losers are hundreds of millions of peasants already at the bottom of a society now sharply divided between rich and poor. They are farmers and fishermen who depend on land and water for their basic existence.

    In July and August, officials measured an 82-mile band of polluted water moving through the Huai basin. China rates its waterways on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being too toxic even to touch. This water was rated 5. For fishermen, it may as well have been poison. "If I had wanted to, I could have gone on the river and filled a boat with dead fish," said Song Dexi, 64, a fisherman in Yumin. "It was smelly, like toilet water. All our fish and shrimp died. We don't have anything to live on now."

    The Huai was supposed to be a Communist Party success story. Ten years ago, the central government vowed to clean up the basin after a pollution tide killed fish and sickened thousands of people. Three years ago, a top Chinese official called the cleanup a success. But the Huai is now a symbol of the failure of environmental regulation in China. The central government promotes big solutions but gives regulators little power to enforce them. Local officials have few incentives to crack down on polluters because their promotion system is based primarily on economic growth, not public health.

    It is a game that leaves poorer, rural regions clinging to the worst polluters.

    "No doubt there is an economic food chain, and the lower you are, the worse off your environmental problems are likely to be," said Elizabeth C. Economy, author of "The River Runs Black" (Cornell University Press, 2004), a study of China's environment. "One city after the next is offloading its polluting industries outside its city limits, and polluting industries themselves are seeking poorer areas."

    China is facing an ecological and health crisis. Heavy air pollution contributes to respiratory illnesses that kill up to 300,000 people a year, many in cities but also in rural areas, the World Bank estimates. Liver and stomach cancer, linked in some studies to water pollution, are among the leading causes of death in the countryside.

    "Over the past 20 years in China, there has been a single-minded focus on economic growth with the belief that economic growth can solve all problems," said Pan Yue, the outspoken deputy director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration. "But this has left environmental protection badly behind."

    Too Poor to Flee, or to Get Well

    Few places bear that out more than eastern Henan Province, which includes Huangmengying. The isolated region has tanneries, paper mills and other high-polluting industries dumping directly into the rivers.

    One of the biggest polluters is the Lianhua Gourmet Powder Company, China's largest producer of monosodium glutamate, or MSG, the flavor enhancer. But the company's political influence is so vast that environmental regulators who have tried to challenge the company have done so in vain.

    The Huai River basin has neither the history of the Yellow River nor the mystique of the Yangtze. Yet the Huai, with its spider's web of canals and broad tributaries, irrigates a huge swath of China's agricultural heartland.

    Farmers once spent lifetimes tilling the same plot of corn or wheat. But in the past decade, millions of farmers, unable to earn a living from the land, have left Henan for migrant work in cities, leaving behind villages of old people and young mothers.

    One of those mothers is Kong Heqin, 30, who was the last stop on Mr. Wang's cancer tour in June. She stumbled into her dirt courtyard, disheveled and groggy from an afternoon nap. Her face was bloated and her legs were swollen. She had already had three operations for cancer, and new tumors were growing in her large intestine.

    Earlier in the year, doctors had prescribed chemotherapy. But treatments cost $500 a series, nearly a year's income. She had borrowed $250 to pay spring school fees for her two sons, and she worried that chemotherapy would drain the family's meager resources away from her children.

    So she stopped chemotherapy.

    "We've wasted so much money on medical treatment," she said. "I think the best thing would be to give up on it."

    Her rising medical bills were one reason her husband left a few years ago for construction work in a northern metropolis, Tianjin. He returns twice a year to plant or harvest crops. On good months, he sends home $60, but Ms. Kong says months go by with nothing in the mail.

    Her illness shapes family life. Her elderly mother tends her husband's fields because she is too weak. Her sons wash the clothes. She grows a ragged garden in her courtyard because the pesticides coating vegetables at local markets make her sick. The plate of boiled eggs on her dresser was a gift from sympathetic relatives.

    Asked about pollution, she seemed confused, as if unaware of the concept. But she has noticed that her well water smells bad and has changed in taste. She knows that others are sick, too. "There's a family next door with a case of cancer," she said. "But they don't like to talk about it. People here are scared to talk about these things."

    Epidemiological research for cancer in the Huai basin is scant. None has been done in Huangmengying. Nor does any scientific evidence prove that pollution is causing the rising cancer rate. What is clear is the wide range of pollutants, from fertilizer runoff to the dumping of factory wastes.

    But Dr. Zhao Meiqin, chief of radiology at the county hospital, said cancer cases in the area rose sharply after heavy industry arrived in the 1980's and 90's. Before, the area had about 10 cases a year. "Now, in a year, there are hundreds of cases," she said, putting the number as high as 400, mostly stomach and intestinal tumors. "Originally, most of the patients were in their 50's and 60's. But now it tends to strike earlier. I've even treated one patient who is only 7."

    Dr. Zhao said most cancer patients came from villages close to the factories along the Shaying River, a major tributary in the Huai basin. Mr. Wang, the village party chief, also said the highest concentrations of cancer were found in the homes closest to the village stream, which draws its water directly from the Shaying.

    Polluters Hiding in Plain Sight

    Health problems began appearing slowly in the early 1990's. Mr. Wang said he learned that the water was severely polluted after an environmental official came on a personal visit. Farmers also began complaining that their fields were producing less grain because of polluted irrigation water.

    Today, pollution corrodes daily life here. Farmers too poor to buy bottled water instead drink well water that curdles with scum when it is boiled.

    Xiao Junhai is 57 but looks two decades older. In June, he shivered under a quilt in a dark room, summer flies flitting at his head, cancer knotting his stomach. He could not lift himself from his crude bed.

    "I grew up drinking the water here, and I still drink it," he said. "I don't know what pollution is, but I do know it means the water is bad."

    His daughter, Xiao Li, 24, anguished over the dilemma that her father's illness had thrust upon her. She says her father takes traditional Chinese remedies and eats rice porridge because the family cannot afford treatment. If she returned to her migrant job on the coast, in Hangzhou, she might earn enough money to pay for it. But no one else can care for him. So she has stayed.

    "The water in the river used to be clean, but now it's black and changing colors all the time," she said. "The water is being destroyed."

    The Lianhua Gourmet Powder Company is based in Xiangcheng, upstream from Huangmengying. It is the area's largest employer, with more than 8,000 workers, and the largest taxpayer in Xiangcheng.

    For Henan Province, Lianhua Gourmet is a signature company, the biggest producer of MSG in China. An analysis by a Chinese credit rating service, Xinhua Far East, found that in 2001 the factory produced more than 133,000 tons of MSG and has plans to raise production to 200,000 tons.

    Under any circumstances, the company's sheer size would translate into significant political clout. But Lianhua, basically, is the government. Lianhua is traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, but according to the credit analysis, its majority stockholder is a holding company owned by the Xiangcheng city government.

    This type of government-controlled enterprise is not unusual in China, but the potential for a conflict of interest is glaring. The production of MSG leaves potentially harmful byproducts, including ammonia nitrate and other pollutants that are supposed to be treated to meet environmental standards.

    A damning report last year by the State Environmental Protection Administration blamed local officials for lax enforcement. The report said Lianhua had dumped 124,000 tons of untreated water every day through secret channels connected to the Xiangcheng city sewage system. The water eventually flowed into the Shaying River, almost quadrupling pollution levels.

    "This constitutes a grave threat to the lives and livelihoods of people downstream," the report stated.

    Officials at Lianhua did not respond to repeated written and telephone requests for interviews. Neither did officials in Xiangcheng nor with Henan Province.

    But one retired local Communist Party official said party cadres had always protected Lianhua. He said a son-in-law of a Lianhua chief executive once even headed the city's environmental protection bureau.

    "There are a lot of officials who don't care about pollution," said the official, who asked not to be identified. "Some leaders are just interested in making money."

    He said the company often broke promises about cleaning up. "What they said and what they did were different things," he said. "They even said they would stop production if they weren't able to meet pollution standards. But they never did that."

    A Stream of Black Water

    This June, a reporter saw a noxious liquid flowing from a waste outlet into a stream near a Lianhua factory on the outskirts of Xiangcheng. A sign above the outlet said, "Lianhua Company, No. 3 Waste Outlet.'' Another sign said the outlet was under the oversight of the city environmental bureau. The acrid smell was so strong that it was difficult to stand nearby.

    Less than a mile downstream from the waste outlet, Wang Haiqing watched his seven goats chew on weeds. Mr. Wang lived on the other side of the stream, in Wangguo, and said several neighbors had contracted cancer or other intestinal ailments. He said his goats vomited if they drank from the blackened water.

    To reach clean drinking water, he said villagers must dig wells 130 feet deep. Most cannot afford to do so.

    "It's been so polluted by the MSG factory," said Mr. Wang, 60. "It tastes metallic even after you boil it and skim the stuff off it. But it's the only water we have to drink and to use for cooking."

    The rains of June in Huangmengying had given way to boiling humidity by the middle of August. Mr. Wang, the village chief, wore shorts and sandals as he again walked beside the village stream. He said four more people had died since June, two of cancer.

    But much had also changed in the two months.

    The 10th anniversary of the government's promise to clean up the Huai had become a major embarrassment for the Communist Party. Roughly $8 billion had been spent to improve the basin, but the State Environmental Protection Administration concluded this year that some areas were more polluted than before.

    China's press, often given freer rein on environmental issues, published critical articles over the summer. The newspaper operated by the State Environmental Protection Administration blamed local officials for allowing powerful companies, including Lianhua, to continue polluting. Even tiny Huangmengying got attention: a crew from state television visited in July. Officials, fearing a humiliating exposé, hurriedly started digging a deeper well for the village.

    But the gesture was dwarfed by what Henan officials did for Lianhua.

    For more than a year, the company had been in financial trouble, suffering from bad investments and a slowdown in the MSG market. For months, banks pressured it for roughly $217 million in unpaid loans.

    The Henan Province government stepped into the breach. The Henan governor, Li Chengyu, organized a meeting at Lianhua headquarters in July to devise a plan to save the company. The Henan government also gave the company more than $25 million.

    "The government is confident and the business is confident that Lianhua Gourmet can be brought around," Mr. Li said, according to the Chinese financial press. "The banks should support Lianhua Gourmet."

    The signal was clear. Henan's government would make certain Lianhua survived.

    In Huangmengying, Mr. Wang again visited Ms. Kong, the young mother with cancer, who was also struggling to survive. Her resolve in June to forego chemotherapy had withered with her health by August. She was pale and coughing as she explained that she had again borrowed money for more treatment. She would leave in a few days.

    But it meant that she could not pay her sons' school fees for the fall semester. Her husband could not find work and had no money to send. And the friends who had loaned her money said they could loan her no more. "I'm scared," she said.

    Only an hour earlier, Mr. Wang had been walking to visit Ms. Kong when a woman rushed toward him and knelt in a formal kowtow, touching her lips against the dirt. Her husband had dropped dead. Doctors had examined the body and discovered a tumor. She needed Mr. Wang to help with funeral arrangements. He asked where she and her husband lived.

    In a small brick hut, about 50 yards from the village stream, answered the woman, Liu Sumei.

    Ms. Liu, 50, led Mr. Wang to a friend's home, where her husband's body lay in a coffin under a large poster of Mao Zedong.

    Ms. Liu had not known her husband had cancer, only that he was in poor health. But in Huangmengying, she said, poor health is not unusual. "Every family has someone who is sick," she said. "All the neighbors."


    Chris Buckley contributed reporting for this article.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

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    China city braces for toxic spill

    Residents of one of China's biggest cities are bracing for the arrival of a toxic chemical spill following an industrial accident on its river.

    Authorities have shut off water to Harbin after confirmation that the accident 10 days ago sent pollution downstream towards the city.
    "Benzene levels were 108 times above national safety levels," said China's Environment Protection Administration.

    Neighbouring Russia is urgently seeking information from China on the spill.

    HARBIN TIMELINE
    13 November Explosion at petrochemical plant, Jilin city
    21 Nov Water to Harbin city cut off; local government cites mains maintenance
    22 Nov State media say water could have been contaminated after the blast
    23 Nov Authorities admit very high levels of benzene have been found in the water

    It should take two days to pass through Harbin, a city of more than three million people, officials say.

    The contamination follows an explosion on 13 November at a chemical plant at Jilin city, about 380km (230 miles) upstream from Harbin, on the Songhua river.

    Some schools and businesses have closed and flights out of Harbin are sold out.

    "Everyone wants to leave Harbin and it is very difficult to buy tickets," a factory manager told Reuters.

    Panic buying
    Water was restored to the city briefly on Wednesday to allow people to stock up before the contaminated water reached Harbin.

    HARBIN
    Capital of Heilongjiang province
    Strong Russian influence
    Hosts annual ice festival

    There have also been reports of frantic well-digging amid fears water from the river could be dangerous for days to come.

    More than 16,000 tons of drinking water is being brought into Harbin by road, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said - though this is less than Harbin's residents normally use in a day.

    Benzene is a highly poisonous toxin that is also carcinogenic.
    Fifteen hospitals have been placed on stand-by to cope with possible poisoning victims.

    Russia's environmental protection agency said it was worried the pollution could affect drinking water supplies in its Khabarovsk region, which the Songhua enters downstream from Harbin.

    BBC Beijing correspondent Louisa Lim says residents of Harbin distrust government statements, having originally been told the stoppage was for routine maintenance.

    The initial announcement of water stoppages led to panic buying of water and food, exhausting supermarket supplies and sending prices soaring.
    "The city was full of ridiculously large queues. People were buying water in massive quantities," English teacher Craig Hutchinson told the BBC News website.

    BENZENE
    Colourless, highly flammable liquid distilled from petroleum
    Used as a cleaning agent, solvent, in dyes and paints
    Lethal to humans exposed to it in high levels
    Chronic exposure leads to progressive degeneration of bone marrow and leukaemia


    Other residents told the BBC they felt more inconvenienced than worried.

    "I can say that we feel safe and fine. Even though people... may not be able to shower, at least they can drink and cook with good [bottled] water," hostel manager Yang Yan said.

    Environmental officials in Russia said they were also monitoring the Amur river, which is fed by the Songhua and is the main water source for the city of Khabarovsk. Harbin is in China's north-east Heilongjiang province, and is one of the country's coldest cities, with overnight temperatures this week falling to -12C.

  3. #3
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    With China changing so quickly I'm surprised that there haven't been incidents like this.

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    "Specialists say China has some of the best environmental laws in the world, but the sheer scale of development, inadequate planning, corruption and poor enforcement often result in uncontrolled pollution."

    Toxic Flow Reaches Chinese City;
    Oil Company Blamed

    By DAVID LAGUE
    International Herald Tribune
    November 24, 2005

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/24/in...gewanted=print


    BEIJING, Nov. 24 - The Chinese government's decision to cut potentially contaminated supplies of fresh water to a major city has highlighted the threat that industrial pollution poses to public health and economic development across the nation.

    Almost four million people in Harbin in northeastern China are expected to be without running water until late Saturday after a chemical plant explosion on Nov. 13 contaminated the upper reaches of the nearby Songhua River with toxic benzene.

    A 50-mile stretch of the river carrying the benzene reached Harbin this morning, Shi Zhongxin, director of the city's water bureau, said on state television, according to the Associated Press. The contaminated water was expected to take 40 hours to make its way through the city.

    State media reported Wednesday that the local government ordered the shutdown starting at midnight Tuesday in Harbin, which is internationally known for its annual ice sculpture festival in January.

    China's Environmental Agency confirmed that the river, which supplies the city, had suffered "major water pollution," the official New China News Agency said late Wednesday. But contaminated water had not reached the city, it added.

    Before water was disconnected, residents were encouraged to store water in buckets and other containers, while the local authorities trucked in thousands of tons of bottled water. In panic buying Monday and Tuesday, customers stripped supermarkets and stores of bottled water and other beverages.

    The airport and railroad stations were reported Wednesday to be jammed as residents tried to leave.

    The New China News Agency reported that schools would be closed until Nov. 30, while 15 local hospitals had been placed on standby to handle any poisoning cases.

    On Wednesday evening, Harbin temporarily restored water supplies to allow residents to stock up.

    The shutdown is a potential threat to heating systems in Harbin, one of China's coldest cities, where day temperatures are already below freezing as winter approaches. The local authorities have ordered heating companies to ensure that they have adequate reserves of water from wells to maintain supplies of hot water to buildings.

    The chemical plant explosion, 236 miles upriver, killed 5 people and forced 10,000 others to evacuate, the state media reported.

    The threat of contamination to Harbin is a reminder that with its booming economy, China is facing a huge environmental challenge.

    The combination of rapid industrialization, a vast population and intensive agriculture has led to some of the world's worst air pollution, widespread shortages of fresh water and soil degradation.

    Pollution and contamination have exacerbated China's water shortages, which environmental experts and even senior officials say could threaten economic development. Data from monitoring stations in the country's seven major river drainage zones showed that 44 percent of rivers were polluted.

    "Many lakes and water courses contain an excess of nutrients and need treatment before they are suitable as freshwater sources," the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a Nov. 14 report on Chinese agriculture.

    Senior Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, have adopted environmental protection as a government priority, and they have repeatedly called for China to switch to economically sustainable development policies.

    Specialists say China has some of the best environmental laws in the world, but the sheer scale of development, inadequate planning, corruption and poor enforcement often result in uncontrolled pollution.



  5. #5
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Chinese Officials Sought to Hide Toxic Spill

    Local Journalists Expose Efforts to Cover Up Contamination of Water Supplies

    By Philip P. Pan
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, November 26, 2005

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...referrer=email


    HARBIN, China, Nov. 26 -- It was dusk on Friday when the trucks finally made it to Chengxiang Road, first a big orange tanker carrying clean water for the local heating plant, then a smaller blue one with more for household use. As word spread through the grimy apartment buildings, residents in heavy coats poured onto the street with plastic buckets, porcelain basins and steel pots.

    Zhang Hongdi, 42, a farmer hired to bring water into this Chinese city from a well in the rural suburbs, sat atop the blue tanker, urging the crowd to form a line and be patient. "There's enough for everyone!" he shouted, as residents peppered him with questions: Where is the water from? How much can we take? When will you come back?

    After another day without running water, the third this week in Harbin following an emergency shutoff caused by a massive chemical spill into the region's main river, many in the line expressed relief that help had arrived in their neighborhood. But standing in the cold, waiting their turn in front of a hose connected to the tanker, people also shared their anger.

    "All of these problems are caused by the government," one man growled as he struggled to carry a huge red bucket of water back to his apartment. He began to say more, but his wife cut him off as a local official walked over, loudly praising the ruling Communist Party.

    Twelve days after an estimated 100 tons of benzene and other toxic compounds poured in the Songhua River following an explosion at a state-owned petrochemical plant, the party is struggling to contain a political crisis as much as an environmental one.

    Daring journalists succeeded in publishing a series of reports on Friday describing in remarkable detail the efforts by party officials to cover up the chemical spill. Among the disclosures was an admission by a provincial governor that officials in Harbin initially lied to the public about why they were shutting down the water supply, because they were awaiting instructions from senior party leaders.

    On Friday night, reporters received orders from the party's central propaganda department to stop asking questions and go home. All state media were told to use the reports only of the official New China News Agency, the journalists said.

    Meanwhile, the central government used the news service to announce it was sending a team of high-level investigators to Harbin. In a sign the party is worried about a public backlash, the report suggested in unusually blunt terms that officials would be disciplined. "Punishments of irresponsible acts are on the way," it said.

    The party's moves to limit the political fallout came as a 50-mile-long slick of toxic river water continued to flow through Harbin, a city of 3.8 million people in Heilongjiang province about 600 miles northeast of Beijing. The city said concentrations of benzene had fallen to safe levels but amounts of a related toxic compound, nitrobenzene, remained more than three times above acceptable limits as of 9 a.m. Saturday.

    The spill occurred after an explosion Nov. 13 at the Jilin Petrochemical Co. that killed five workers and injured 70 more. The plant, a subsidiary of one of China's largest energy firms, China National Petroleum Corp., is located about 165 miles upstream from Harbin in neighboring Jilin province.

    Party officials at the factory and in the Jilin government at first denied the blast caused any pollution, and continued to repeat such statements as recently as Monday.

    But in one of several tough reports on Friday, the state-run China Youth Daily quoted an unidentified city engineer in Jilin saying party officials there were told of the chemical spill within eight hours of the explosion. Citing another unnamed source, it also said the Jilin officials released water from a reservoir into the river in an attempt to dilute the spill and fix the problem without alerting the public.

    The report did not say whether Jilin officials told the central government of the spill, but it undercut assertions by a senior official with the State Environmental Protection Administration on Thursday that the blast "was handled properly." He admitted the public was not told of the spill, but said local officials and companies were informed.

    Reached by phone, an environmental official in Songyuan, a city of more than 400,000 located between Jilin and Harbin, confirmed that officials there were told of the spill but chose to keep it secret. The official, who asked to be identified only by a surname, Li, said the city shut off the part of its water system that is linked to the river but told the public it was just doing repairs.

    A water industry official in Harbin, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was likely that farmers and others living in rural areas between Jilin and Harbin were not informed of the spill and drank or used the contaminated water. Benzene poisoning can cause anemia, some forms of cancer and other blood disorders, as well as kidney and liver damage.

    It was not until Nov. 21, when they were confronted with tests showing pollution at more than 100 times acceptable levels, that Harbin officials decided to shut down the water supply. Even then, the city said the reason for doing so was to "carry out repair and inspections on the pipe network."

    In the most damning report in the state media, China Newsweek magazine said the governor of Heilongjiang province, Zhang Zuoji, told a meeting of 400 officials that the city lied because it was waiting for permission from higher authorities to disclose the spill. The magazine also said participants in the meeting were told that Harbin officials were reluctant to contradict the denials of Jilin officials that were reported in "authoritative media," a reference to official outlets in Beijing.

    It was only after an urgent message by provincial officials on Monday night seeking help and guidance from the central government that officials decided to end the coverup, the magazine said. The announcement came at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, less than two hours after city authorities received instructions from Beijing.

    A day later, the central government confirmed that a "major water pollution incident" had occurred.

    But by then, the damage to the party's credibility had been done. Residents described a rush to leave the city and panicked buying of bottled water and other supplies as the conflicting explanations fueled public confusion and rumors of an imminent earthquake, apparently introduced by a vague television forecast.

    By Friday, the city appeared much calmer. But even Liu Ying, the local official on Chengxiang Road, said it was reasonable that residents had doubts about the city's promise to resume pumping safe water on Monday. "People don't believe it," she said. "Everyone wants to store more water, just to be safe."


    © 2005 The Washington Post Company

  6. #6
    Build the Tower Verre antinimby's Avatar
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    Default Bottled water from China, anyone?

    300 Million Chinese Drink Unsafe Water

    By ELAINE KURTENBACH, Associated Press Writer
    Thu Dec 29, 9:38 AM ET

    SHANGHAI, China - About 300 million people living in China's vast countryside drink unsafe water tainted by chemicals and other contaminants, the government said Thursday in its latest acknowledgment of mounting risks from widespread pollution.

    The most common threat to water, after drought, is chemical pollutants and other harmful substances that contaminate drinking supplies for 190 million people, state media quoted E Jingping, a vice minister for water resources, as saying.

    The report follows recent chemical spills in the northeast and south of the country that temporarily spoiled water supplies for millions of people and highlighted the severity of the pollution crisis.

    The problems are not limited to the countryside. About 90 percent of China's cities have polluted ground water, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a recent nationwide survey.

    In Shanghai, the country's biggest and wealthiest city, fetid, stinky canals bubble with pollution. The city's tap water, drawn partly from the heavily polluted Yangtze River, is yellowish and smelly, despite efforts to clean up local waterways.

    Some 136 Chinese cities report severe water shortages, adding to the problem, Xinhua said.

    "The top priority of our drought relief work is to ensure safe drinking water and safeguard people's health," Xinhua quoted E as telling a conference this week in the western city of Chengdu.

    Heavily polluting paper and chemical plants have long been cited as key sources of degradation of most of China's waterways. In some areas, the problems have prompted riots by local residents outraged by chronic health problems and the destruction of their fields and fish farms.

    Millions of other Chinese face risks from naturally occurring contaminants, such as excess fluorine, which affects water supplies for 63 million people, and arsenic, which taints water supplies for 2 million. Another 38 million have only brackish water to drink, the report said.

    Earlier this week, authorities reported that toxins in the Bei River, in southern China's Guangdong province, had nearly returned to safe levels after a Dec. 15 spill of more than 1,000 tons of cadmium-laced water from a smelter in the city of Shaoguan.

    Cities along the Bei temporarily stopped drawing water from the river and dams were closed to keep the spill away from the provincial capital, Guangzhou.

    Residents in Russia's Far East have been warned against eating fish after a 110-mile-long slick from a chemical spill in northeastern China crossed the border earlier this week. That spill, from a Nov. 13 chemical plant explosion in the city of Jilin, forced Chinese cities along the Songhua River to shut off water for days.

  7. #7
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    The negative side effects from pollution as described in the above article could easily thwart the modernization of China and wreak havoc on the Chinese economy. Already there are stories of the Chinese people fighting back against unregulated modernization.

    I suppose the Chinese government can try to silence the populace, but if things get too far out of control then all bets are off.

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    Chinese rush to clean river pollution accident

    Tons of coal tar accidentally dumped could soon reach large reservoir

    The Associated Press
    June 15, 2006

    MSNBC

    BEIJING - Cleanup crews in northern China were scrambling Thursday to absorb 60 tons of toxic coal tar accidentally dumped into a river before it reaches a reservoir serving a city of 10 million people, state media said.

    The incident occurred Monday when a truck carrying the coal tar fell into the Dasha river in Shanxi province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

    Cotton batting, sponge, straw and activated carbon were being used to try to absorb the coal tar — a substance linked to cancer — before it reaches the Wangkuai Reservoir of Baoding, a city of about 10 million, Xinhua said.

    Some 23 dams had also been set up along the Dasha river, Xinhua said. The report did not say, however, if the dams were meant to stop, filter or divert the flow of water.

    Baoding, in neighboring Hebei province, is about 45 miles from the site of the accident, Xinhua said. The report said the pollution was traveling less than 1 mile per hour downstream.

    Baoding city officials were preparing for the pollution to hit the reservoir but did not know when it would arrive, said a man who answered the phone at the Baoding City Environmental Protection Bureau. He would only give his surname, Qin.

    Qin said the Wangkuai was not used for drinking water but for irrigation and industrial use. He said a second city reservoir, the Xidanyang, was a dedicated drinking water source.

    There have been no reports of people being sickened by the contaminated water, Xinhua said.

    Dozens of water pollution accidents

    Xinhua said the truck carrying the coal tar was heavily overloaded when it crashed and that the driver did not tell traffic authorities he had been carrying the load when he reported the accident, delaying cleanup efforts. The report did not say when the cleanup began.

    Most of China’s canals, rivers and lakes are severely tainted by industrial, agricultural and household pollution.

    The government has said that since a major chemical spill on the Songhua river in northern China last November that halted water supplies to tens of millions in China and Russia, there have been at least 76 more water pollution accidents.

    In the Songhua incident, local authorities were accused of reacting too slowly and delaying public disclosure.

    © 2006 The Associated Press.

    © 2006 MSNBC.com

  9. #9
    Senior Member Bob's Avatar
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    The Chinese government still doesn't get it. Open discussion and the willingness to admit when something is a problem serves everyone's interests, and makes for a stronger society. As far as I'm concerned, I'm pleased they wish to continue to be stupid. If they wish to ignore problems, put dissenters in jail, destroy their environment, I say, let them enjoy their totalitarian paradise.

  10. #10

    Default

    China's urban water supplies face severe test

    By Ben Blanchard
    Tue Aug 22, 7:05 AM ET

    Pollution and poor management have worsened the quality of China's increasingly scarce urban water supplies, but in the next five years the government will spend $125 billion on the problem, an official said on Tuesday.

    China was now at a "crossroads" in addressing urban water problems, said Qiu Baoxing, vice construction minister, but he ruled out a large rise in tariffs to encourage water conservation, saying low incomes would not permit such a move.

    "The urban water environment in China is still generally in the process of worsening," Qiu told a news conference.

    "The reasons for this serious situation are many, but there are three main areas that have not been brought under effective control -- waste water discharge in cities, industrial effluent and agricultural pollution," he said.

    Per capita water resources in the world's most populous country are less than a third of the global average, and falling.

    A drought this summer in southwestern China's Chongqing city and Sichuan province has left more than 18 million people short of drinking water -- greater than the population of the Netherlands.

    In China's rapidly growing cities, where people from the much poorer countryside have flocked in the last few decades, hoping to share in the country's economic growth, almost half of all waste water is dumped untreated into rivers and lakes.

    More than 50 water treatment plants in some 30 cities only operated below a third of capacity or were not used at all, said Qiu, who was promoting the World Water Congress that opens in Beijing next month.

    Leaky pipes and over-use of groundwater have exacerbated shortages, he added, and have even led to severe subsidence problems in some cities.

    Northern China, where a third of the country's population lives, also suffers from increasingly dry conditions, the official said.

    Qiu said the government would spend more than 1 trillion yuan ($125.5 billion) in the next five years on new sewage works, pipes, desalinization plants and projects like the massive South-North water diversion scheme.

    "We are standing at a crossroads," said Qiu, who admitted to only using bottled water to make tea because of poor tap water quality in Beijing.

    Conservation efforts in some cities including Beijing, which is preparing for a self-styled "green" Olympics in 2008, have helped cut water consumption. Zhang Yue, deputy head of the ministry's urban construction department, said Beijing used 500 million tonnes less water in 2005 than in previous years.

    But Qiu said that raising low water prices to promote conservation was not an easy option. He said that water costs of $5 a tonne as in Boston, or 2.5 euros a tonne in France, would not work in China.

    "People's income in China is very low, and we have to think long and hard about their ability to accept (a price rise)," Qiu said. "We are not preparing for a large price increase."

    On Tuesday, China's National Development and Reform Commission, which steers economic policy, announced a series of investments to improve water quality.

    The Commission said on its Web site (www.sdpc.gov.cn) that it would allocate 700 million yuan ($87.9 million) in bonds for garbage and waste water treatment projects in over 50 towns around the massive Three Gorges Dam in southwestern China.

    Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

  11. #11
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Rules Ignored, Toxic Sludge Sinks Chinese Village


    Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
    Sugai, a farming village in Inner Mongolia, China, was destroyed
    in a flood of sludge from two paper mills.

    NY TIMES
    By JIM YARDLEY
    September 4, 2006

    URAD QIANQI, China — Dark as soy sauce, perfumed with a chemical stench, the liquid waste from two paper mills overwhelmed the tiny village of Sugai. Villagers tried to construct a makeshift dike, but the toxic water swept it away. Fifty-seven homes sank into a black, polluted lake.

    The April 10 industrial spill, described by five residents of the village in Inner Mongolia, was a small-scale environmental disaster in a country with too many of them. But Sugai should have been different. The two mills had already been sued in a major case, fined and ordered to upgrade their pollution equipment after a serious spill into the Yellow River in 2004.

    The official response to that spill, praised by the state-run news media, seemed to showcase a new, tougher approach toward pollution — until the later spill at Sugai revealed that local officials had never carried out the cleanup orders. Now, the destruction of Sugai is a lesson in the difficulty of enforcing environmental rules in China.

    “The smell made me want to vomit,” one villager said recently, as he showed the waist-high watermark on the remains of his home. There is no shortage of environmental laws and regulations in China, many of them passed in recent years by a central government trying to address one of the worst pollution problems in the world. But those problems persist, in part, because environmental protection is often subverted by local protectionism, corruption and regulatory inefficiency.

    Even as many domestic and international environmental groups now credit China with beginning to take the environment seriously, pollution is actually worsening in some crucial categories. Emissions of sulfur dioxide, the building block of acid rain, rose by 27 percent between 2000 and 2005; government projections had called for a 20 percent reduction.

    “It is clear the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection is coming to a head,” said Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, according to the official New China News Agency.

    The broader tension of balancing environmental protection with fast economic growth is not likely to ease. China wants to double the size of its economy by 2020. And yet Mr. Zhou did not hesitate to assign much of the blame for the undercutting of pollution control efforts to corruption and fraud by local officials.

    Despite its rising public profile, the State Environmental Protection Administration remains one of the weakest agencies in the central government bureaucracy and has sought to increase its regulatory powers.

    For years, it has complained that local environmental protection bureaus are accountable to local officials rather than the state agency. This has meant that local regulators had to answer to mayors or other local officials who may have had financial or other interests in protecting polluting industries.

    In early August, SEPA announced that it would establish 11 regional offices to monitor pollution problems better. The agency also announced that local officials eligible for promotion would be judged on their pollution track record, in addition to how well they deliver economic growth.

    Public disgust over pollution is growing. In May, the official English-language newspaper China Daily reported that more than 50,000 disputes and protests arose in 2005 over pollution. Public complaints to the national environmental administration rose by 30 percent.

    “We have heard many complaints saying, ‘no clean official, no clean water,’ ” Zhang Lijun, a deputy director at SEPA, told China Daily.

    Here in Urad Qianqi, a city along the Yellow River that encompasses Sugai, officials delayed for almost five weeks before finally refusing to be interviewed about the spill. Provincial officials also declined to talk, as did administrators with the paper mills and the local irrigation district.

    In July, a reporter, photographer and researcher for The New York Times visited the village after being warned it was under official watch to prevent outsiders from entering. After nightfall, a sedan without license plates pursued the Times’s hired car and tried to force it to the side of the road.

    The Times’s car escaped to a highway but was later stopped by the police, who questioned the driver for about three hours.

    Even without official cooperation, the basic chronology of the Sugai spill can be reconstructed through interviews with villagers, the handful of accounts in the Chinese news media and reports issued by the environmental agency.

    For decades, the two factories, Saiwai Xinghuazhang Paper Company and Meili Beichen Paper Company, dumped their toxic sludge directly into the Yellow River. Five years ago, the introduction of new regulations ended that dumping, and factories began pumping the waste instead into a long drainage canal connected to the region’s intricate irrigation and flood protection system.

    But in June 2004, the commission that regulates the irrigation system decided to address rising water levels in the system by dumping polluted canal water into the Yellow River. The release created a pollution slick that killed tens of thousands of fish and plunged the downstream city of Baotou into a drinking water crisis that lasted several days.

    Industrial accidents are common in China. Millions of residents in Harbin, in northeastern China, were forced to depend on bottled water after a major benzene spill contaminated the Songhua River last November. During the first four months of 2006, SEPA reported another 49 “major’’ industrial accidents and illegal pollution discharges. A study it released last month found that roughly 80 percent of China’s 7,555 more heavily polluting factories are located on rivers, lakes or in heavily populated areas.

    The official handling of the 2004 spill into the Yellow River was initially considered a groundbreaking success. The city of Baotou was awarded almost $300,000 in damages from the two factories and the irrigation district in what state news media called the first pollution lawsuit on the Yellow River. Government agencies ordered the factories shut down to install water recycling and treatment equipment. SEPA ordered the mills to comply with national water emission requirements.

    Officials in Urad Qianqi decided instead to build large, temporary wastewater containment pools directly beside the river. Li Wanzhong, director of the Inner Mongolia Environmental Protection Bureau, concluded that those pools were a threat to the river. China Environment News, the official publication of the state environmental administration, reported that Mr. Li had ordered Urad Qianqi to close the factories if they continued to violate emissions standards.

    But the factories were never closed. Then, a violent storm last April set off a crisis. High winds threatened to push wastewater from the pools into the Yellow River. Villagers were told that officials feared another spill into the river would expose their failure to carry out earlier orders. So officials ordered that a containment pool wall be broken so that wastewater could be diverted into a three-mile strip beside the river where several small villages, including Sugai, stood.

    The only warning came from a Sugai villager who made a surreptitious telephone call from his job at one of the factories. A dozen farmers frantically tried to build a mud dike.

    “The water was too high, and it didn’t work,” said one 37-year-old farmer, who, like other villagers, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “The water came all of a sudden. It was poisonous water, but I don’t know what poisons were in it.”


    Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
    Villagers in Sugai, China, learned of the wastewater headed their way only because of a secret warning
    from a resident who worked at the mills.

    Three months after the spill, the homes remained uninhabitable. Large pools of black water festered in the lowest-lying areas. All but three houses — built on higher ground — had been abandoned. The farmland, once considered among the best in the area, was contaminated. Most residents had relocated to nearby villages after receiving cash settlements based on the size of their home.

    “The reason this accident happened is that the local government didn’t follow the directives of the central government,” said a 40-year-old man whose father had lived in the village. He added, “They also wanted to protect the local industries.”

    Urad Qianqi’s Communist Party secretary, Jia Yingxiang, later told the New China News Agency that installing the required wastewater treatment plants was too expensive. He said factories were allowed to reopen because so many local workers were dependent on them.

    In fact, Urad Qianqi officials had promised in 2000 to build water treatment equipment but never did. Environmental regulators did examine the containment pools at the two paper mills. A government report after the April spill deemed the pools to be substandard and said that local officials and factory bosses had reduced the height of the walls to save money.

    Health problems connected to the spill had begun to emerge in July. A dozen or more Sugai villagers had severe rashes on their legs. On July 13, government doctors arrived with ointments.

    “The doctors didn’t say what was wrong with me,” said one 40-year-old mother with large red welts and rashes on her thighs. “It is hard to sleep at night because of the itching.”

    Her husband, meanwhile, is worried about supporting his family. “Even if we put seeds in the earth there,” the man, 44, said, “they won’t grow because the pollution is too severe.”

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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