Water Pollution in China is the Country's Largest Environmental Issue
Half of China’s population cannot access water that is safe for human consumption and two-thirds of China’s rural population relies on tainted water. Water pollution in China is such a problem that there could be “catastrophic consequences for future generations,” according to the World Bank.

China’s water supply has been contaminated by the dumping of toxic human and industrial waste. Pollution-induced algae blooms cause the surface of China’s lakes to turn a bright green, but greater problems may lurk beneath the surface; groundwater in 90 percent of China’s cities is contaminated.

China’s coastal manufacturing belt faces the most pollution. Despite the closure of thousands of pollutant sources, a third of the waterway remains well below the government’s modest standards for water quality. Most of China’s rural areas lack a system to treat wastewater.

Water pollution in China has doubled from what the government originally predicted because the impact of agricultural waste was ignored. Farm fertilizer has largely contributed to water contamination. China’s water sources contain toxic of levels of arsenic, fluorine and sulfates, and pollution has been linked to China’s high rates of liver, stomach and esophageal cancer.

Dabo Guan, a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain, has been studying scarcity and water pollution in China for years. He believes water pollution to be the biggest environmental issue in China, but the public may be unaware of its impact. Air pollution creates pressure from the public on the government because it is visible every day, but underground water pollution is not visible in the cities, causing it to virtually be forgotten.

Water pollution in China stems from the demand for cheap goods; multinational companies ignore their suppliers’ environmental practices. Although China’s development has lifted many out of poverty, it has also sent many others into disease.

Factories are able to freely discharge their wastewater into lakes and rivers due to poor environmental regulations, weak enforcement and local corruption. Rural villages located near factory complexes rely on the contaminated water for drinking, washing and cooking. These villages have become known as “cancer villages” because of their high rates of cancer and death.

In 2011, Greenpeace launched the Detox campaign to publicize the relationship between multinational companies, their suppliers and water pollution in China. The Detox campaign challenges multinational companies to work with their suppliers to eliminate all instances of hazardous chemicals into water sources. Although combating water pollution in China will require much more work, continued efforts from organizations like the Detox campaign provide a beacon of hope for the future of China’s people and environment.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr


Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis. One of these must be the biggest cause of deaths in the developing world, right?

Wrong. It is pollution, not diseases, that causes the most deaths in developing countries. Around 8.4 million lives are claimed each year by various kinds of pollution. That is three times more deaths than those caused by malaria, and four times as many as caused by HIV/AIDS.

India and Africa are areas where there are particularly serious problems. India, not China, is home to the world’s most polluted city: Delhi. The number of PM 2.5 particles, the world’s most dangerous, capable of penetrating the lung and therefore entering straight into the bloodstreams of millions, reached 21 times the recommended limit recently.

These levels are twice as toxic as those in Beijing, the accepted pollution capital of the world. The pollution in India causes 1.3 million deaths a year. It also cuts 660 million lives short by three years. Three years off a life simply because of where a person is born or happens to live.

Pollution is also a danger in Africa, where malaria and HIV/AIDS often take the headlines as the leading killers on the continent. Gaborone, Botswana, ranks eighth in particulate pollution among cities that provided information about their pollution levels.

Besides outdoor pollution being an issue, there is also the problem of indoor pollution in both Africa and India. This is generated mostly from cooking with wood and other sooty fuels that clog up the air. Regulations are lax, toward both indoor pollutants and corporate ones.

Never fear, however. New wearable pollution-sensing technology is on the way to save the day, or at least improve the situation. TZOA is producing a small gadget capable of informing wearers about the air they breathe by using “internal sensors to measure your air quality, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, ambient light and UV (sun) exposure all in one wearable device.”

The device can hook up to an app on a phone to give air readings. It is not alone in the small pollution-sensing gadget department. A device that doubles for a key-chain called Clarity can perform a similar task. Clarity tracks “personal exposure to air pollution via a smartphone app,” just like TZOA.

While these technologically advanced gizmos cannot reduce the drastic levels of pollution around the globe that are killing millions, what they can do is help provide data where it is lacking in areas where pollution is prevalent. Data is often not available or not provided in some of the areas with the worst pollution.

These gadgets also have the potential to raise awareness for the severity of the issue. Empowering those in the thick of the worst conditions has the potential to make the severity of the situation clearer to governments as well as ordinary people. Armed with this information, both could take action because of the data provided by devices like TZOA and Clarity.

Greg Baker

Sources: Tech Times, Inter Press Service, Huffington Post, BBC, Wired, New York Times

Hangzhou is widely regarded as the poster child for the Chinese economic model. The city is growing at nine percent annually and is six times larger than it was in 2000, thanks to the break-neck speed at which its industries are diversifying and expanding. Residents enjoy a GDP per capita of 9,300 dollars, the ninth highest of all cities in China. But the frenzied rate of development has also precipitated rain on Hangzhou’s parade – the rain being showers of coal dust.

On March 10, 2013, residents woke up to a film of black powder that coated their homes and roads. The trees and flowers of the nearby Bashan National Forest Park were not spared either. Paradoxically, Hangzhou is a city whose name translates to “heaven of the earth.” It is legendary for its natural beauty; an ancient saying declares, “just as there is paradise in heaven, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth.” In 2009, the city was voted the “National Garden City” and given the “China Habitat Environmental Prize.”

However, authorities were not able provide an explanation, much less a solution, for the shower of coal dust that came down on Hangzhou. It was an incident that both literally and figuratively besmirched the city and pointed to a larger nation-wide problem. China burns 3.5 billion tons of coal each year, largely for energy purposes, which generates 60 percent of the nitric oxide, 40 percent of the carbon dioxide and 25 percent of the dust pollutants in China’s notorious pollution.

Many residents of Hangzhou have refused to turn a blind eye to the environmental strains caused by the city’s rapid development. In May of 2014, people in Hangzhou demonstrated against a proposed garbage incinerator they believed would contaminate the air with toxic dioxin and mercury. More than 20,000 signatures were gathered from concerned residents who called for the project to be halted.

The authorities demanded calm, claiming that the incinerator was necessary given that the rapid expansion of the city had led to mounting levels of residential waste. After facing months of continued criticism, they promised that the project would not go ahead if public resistance remained high. At the same time, however, they arrested dozens of protesters. But even if authorities did pledge a shutdown, they could easily withdraw it. In 2011, a paraxylene plant that had sparked multiple protests in the city of Dalian was later quietly reopened in 2012, one year later.

The Chinese government is taking some steps to address the environmental problem in Hangzhou. It promised to build a coal-free zone by 2017, and assured Hangzhou’s residents that they would be able to enjoy more than 300 days of second-grade or better air quality by then. The government established the aptly named Project Blue Sky, Project Green Water, Project Greenness and Project Quietness.

While not being entirely inert, the rate at which progress is being made to ensure clean air might not be fast enough to keep up with the city’s rate of growth. In spite of implementing a metro system in 2012 and other public transportation initiatives that were aimed at decreasing people’s dependence on automobiles, CO2 emissions due to transportation are projected to increase by 59.6 percent by 2020. As long as the city develops at its current rate, demand for cars and other forms of motorization will continue to surge.

In 2013, China released 29 percent of the world’s CO2, or 10.3 billion tons. It was the largest emission from any single country. The U.S. released the second highest amount of CO2, accounting for 15 percent of global emissions with 5.3 billion tons. There is cause for hope, however, with the carbon reduction deal President Barack Obama and President Xi Jingping signed last November. China agreed to cap emissions and increase its use of zero-emission energy sources by 20 percent by 2030. But even with this initiative, it seems that Hangzhou will continue to suffer increasing environmental degradation for at least the next fifteen years.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: China Briefing, Chicago Policy Review, NYTimes, The Epoch Times, Xinhua, IKPMG, Hangzhou Weekly, Hangzhou Government, Hangzhou Government, UN Habitat, The Guardian, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission
Photo: Fortune