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

China has been a major manufacturer for quite some time now and the environmental consequences have been laid bare for all to see. Lacking environmental regimes with any real teeth, the Chinese have painted themselves into a pollution filled corner.

This week has some of the worst smog on record in China, and many of its citizens have had enough. For the first time ever, a Chinese citizen has brought a lawsuit against the Chinese government for its ineffective and halfhearted strategies on controlling pollution.

Li Guixin, a resident of Shijazhuang in the Hebei province, filed the lawsuit this week in response to the crippling smog.

The complaint filed simply asks the government to “perform its duty to control air pollution according to the law”. Guixin also seeks compensation for those who have suffered under the pollution.

Having to accommodate his life around the pollution, Guixin owns multiple face masks and an air purifier. Unwilling to unnecessarily expose himself to harsh environment, he has bought a treadmill so he may exercise inside.

The Chinese government has various investments in clean air projects, but it has failed to make a dent in the smog. It has also given power to the courts to prosecute environmental offenders, but normally the courts lack follow through in this regard.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of smog engulfing the entirety of Beijing. Hebei, a large industrial hub known for steel manufacturing, is largely considered the culprit.

Many companies in Beijing have stopped production to help reduce the amount of smog.

Chief among many concerns is the detriment that pollution places on one’s health. Many agree long exposure to pollution consisting of particulate matter can lead to lung cancer.

In fact, environmental researchers have determined that the amount of pollution around Beijing measures approximately 400 PM 2.5. This means that 400 particulates 2.5 microns or greater are present per cubic meter of air. To put it in perspective, the World Health Organization recommends one’s exposure to remain within 25 PM 2.5 per 24 hours.

Exposure to extreme pollution has become such a frequent occurrence in Chinese life that the International School of Beijing has built domes over its outdoor play areas in order to reduce the possibility of children breathing the harsh air. Construction of the domes have cost up to $5 million.

The Chinese government has put out a statement claiming the cause of the pollution can be traced to weather conditions that proved conducive to smog and a large increase in the use of firecrackers. The Chinese New Year was celebrated earlier this month.

Whatever the true cause, the unusual amount of pollution demands serious attention from authorities. Beijing’s mayor has pledged what amounts to $124.6 billion to improve the air quality within the city.

Zachary Lindberg

Sources: Reuters, CNN
Photo: Policy Mic

Officials in Shanghai are holding their order that children and elderly persons remain inside their homes, since the outdoor smog levels reached dangerously high levels on Friday December 6.

The Chinese government ordered a stop to construction and for factories to cut production following the warning. Flights were delayed and cars were ordered off the roads due the thick haze reducing visibility to 150 feet in certain areas. The city’s Air Quality Index rose above 500, “beyond index” for the first time in history.

The Air Quality Index is a scale from 0-500; a warning for people to stay indoors is typically given when the index surpasses 200. Two days after the government issued warning, the air was still considered “heavily polluted” by a local monitoring center, with an index rating of 238.

Smog is formed when mono-nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of sunlight. The main smog-causing sources are stationary industrial emissions and automobile exhaust. China’s rapidly increasing factory production, coal-burning plants and high use of automobiles are exceeding the few government regulations that are attempting to reduce air pollutants, creating a serious health issue for Shanghai’s citizens.

Shanghai’s dangerous particulate matter (PM) was 14 times higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended daily exposure. In circumstances such as these, health is the main concern. According to an article from National Public Radio, a local resident reported having a headache, coughing, and difficulty breathing while on her way to work.

PM is a complex combination of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances suspended in the air, affecting more people than any other pollutant according to the WHO. When inhaled, PM may interfere with gas exchange inside the lungs, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases after chronic exposure. Outdoor air pollution contributes to an estimated 1.3 million deaths per year, with those in middle-income countries disproportionately suffering.

– Maris Brummel

Sources: Bloomberg, NPR, WHO
Sources: The Atlantic City

Smog From China is Crossing BordersSmog in China is an ongoing issue. China’s ongoing process of industrialization has resulted in extreme amounts of pollution in many of its cities. Because of the national dependence on particularly dirty fossil fuels, millions of citizens wear surgical masks when venturing outside because the air is just too dirty to breathe safely.

Until recently, the problem has been largely confined to China itself. Those afraid of global climate change, however, have been calling attention to the issue for years. Now, smog from China is crossing borders and affecting its Japanese neighbors. This presents another challenge to test Chinese-Japanese already strained relations.

Associate Professor Toshihiko Takemura of Kyushu University, who studies pollution for the University, explained that in Kyushu, “the level of air pollution has been detectable in everyday lives since a few years ago.”

China is notorious for quashing public dissent on sensitive issues like government shortcomings. However, in recent weeks, there have been uncanny amounts of focus put on environmental shortcomings by both state television and party officials.

Hopefully, the new Chinese Premier will work hard to drastically reduce China’s levels of pollution, bettering the health of the country’s citizens while improving relations with China’s estranged neighbor.

Jake Simon

Photo: Japan Times