CHEMICAL SPILLS, OIL SPILLS AND 16,000 DEAD PIGS IN CHINESE WATERS

CHEMICAL SPILLS IN CHINESE WATERWAYS

20080317-songua slick4 Xinhua env nes.jpg
Songua slick
In December 2005, toxic cadmium was released into the Bei River by a zinc smelter upstream from Guangzhou, forcing Shaoguan, a city of half million people, to halt water supplies for eight hours. The cadmium-containing water had been released illegally during an overhaul of equipment. A dam was used to trap the cadmium before it could contaminate Guangzhou’s water supply.

In January 2006, cadmium was released into the Xiang River in Huanan Province, threatened Xiangtan, another city of half million people. The cadmium-containing water came from a waste-water ditch mistakenly diverted into the Xiang River. Some officials had been warning that such an accident was likely but were ignored. Afterwards the government prevented reporting on the spill.

In September 2006, Chinese authorities closed a factory and detained the manager and seven others after 10 cubic meters of a highly toxic chemicals were dumped into a tributary of the Songhua River, which had been fouled a year earlier by a huge benzene spill.

In June 2006, a truck carrying 60 tons of potential cancer-causing coal ash overturned on a mountain road and dumped its load into the She Dasha River in Shanxi province. The river, already badly fouled by water from coal mines and steel factories, gave off a sour odor and left streaks of black along it banks. Almost all life---fish, shrimp, frogs---that lived in the fouled section of river died. There was a big worry that spill might reach Wangkuai reservoir, used as a back up water source for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In August 2006, a tanker carrying 25 tons of caustic soda sank in the Xuefeng River in northwest China, poisoning the water supply for 100,000 people and killing one person. To remedy the situation the government dumped 10 tons of hydrochloric acid in the river to neutralize the soda.

In April 2007, water was cut off to 150,000 villagers living along the Hinghe River after high levels of lead were found in the river.

In February 2008, a tanker truck carrying more than 30 tons of sulfuric acid crashed on a highway between Anning and Chuxiong in Yunnan Province, spilling much of its contents into a river alongside the highway and causing “serious pollution.”

In February 2009, a chemical spill led to the suspension of water to 200,000 people in Yanchang, a city of 1.5 million in the eastern province of Jiangsu. The incident came to light after residents complained of foul-smelling water coming from their taps. The most dangerous of the chemicals released was the carcinogen hydroxybenzene and the disinfectant phenol. The source of the pollutants, the Biiaoxin Chemical Company, was ordered closed. Two managers at the company were arrested.

In July 2010, 3,000 barrels of a flammable chemical used to make rubber and adhesives was washed into the Singhua River near Jilin city in Jilin Province by floods.

See Yellow River and Yangtze River in Water Pollution Article

More than 73 major incidents of this sort occurred in a four month period at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006. Many feel that many more incidents like this occur that go unreported.

Benzene Spill in the Songua River

In November 2005, an explosion at a petrochemical plant in the northeastern province of Jilin caused about 100 tons of highly toxic benzene compounds to flow into the Songhua River, affecting the drinking water of millions of people. Taps were turned off for nearly a week in the downstream city of Harbin, home to 9 million people, when the 80-kilometer-long spill reached it. People could not take showers, flush their toilets or wash dishes for a week. Water had to be brought in by truck. There was panic buying of water in shops, Scuffles and arguments broke out in the lines of people waiting for water.

Benzene is a carcinogenic petrochemical that can cause leukemia, blood disorders and kidney and liver damage. Other chemical that were leaked with the benzene included nitrobenzene and aniline, a poisonous liquid used to make dyes, resin, and rubber additives. They too are potentially cancer-causing. The spill was made worse because officials concealed the problem for 10 days, preventing immediate action from taking place, and allowing the toxic slick to break up and spread and reach far down stream. The announcement only came when large number of dead fish were seen floating on the surface.

The Songhua River is a source of drinking water for tens of millions of people. The spill reached the Amur River, a massive river and the main source of drinking water for eastern Russia, where some of it froze in ice and remained there until the spring thaw. Tons of carbon---used to filter out contaminates---was tossed into the water from trucks by soldiers to reduce the potency of the slick before it reached the Khabarovsk, a Russian city of 580,000. A 180-kilometer-long slick did reach Khabarovsk but it had been diluted enough so that it didn’t present a serious danger and water for the city was not cut off.

China apologized to Russia for the spill and promised to spend $1.2 billion to clean up the Songhua River. Officials involved in the cover up were dismissed. One committed suicide.

Few lessons seemed to have been learned from the Harbin spill. During the year that followed there were 130 major chemical spills, or one every three days.

Toxic Spill in Yancheng

In February 2009, authorities from China’s coastal city of Yancheng, in the province of Jiangsu, shut off water and restricted the supply for several days following citizen reports of foul smelling water. An estimated one million of the city’s 1.5 million residents were left without water due to what government identified as the presence of two variants of carbolic acid  carcinogen hydroxybenzene and phenol---in the city’s water supply. [Source: Elizabeth Balkan, Sustainablog.org, February 26, 2009]

The local government identified Biaoxin Chemical Company as the party responsible for the tainted water, which illegally discharged the toxic chemicals from its facility, said state media Xinhua news agency. Xinhua also reported that the plant has been shut down and its top executives arrested. Officials have not provided any additional information; and state media China Daily reports that no one has come forward with symptoms of poisoning have not been independently confirmed. [Ibid]

Yancheng lays claim to a record of arduous efforts to protect the environment, including setting up stiff policies to monitor potential polluters. Known for its wetlands and salt deposits (Yangcheng literally translates as salt city), the city received over US$2 million in funding from the central government and Asian Development Bank in 2007 to restore and protect its wetlands. [Ibid]

The Yancheng National Nature Reserve occupies 453,000 hectares and is the largest coastal wetland in China with extensive mudflats along over 120 kilometers of coastline. About 3 million birds from 200 bird species annually migrating through the site. No information about whether the spill has affected the wetlands has been released. [Ibid]

Cadmium Spill Threatens Water Supplies of Major Chinese City

In January 2012, Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: Chinese emergency personnel are erecting barrages and pouring hundreds of tonnes of chloride into a river in southern China in a desperate effort to prevent a toxic spill from contaminating the supplies of a major city. The flow of cadmium - discharged into the Liu River earlier this month - has continued despite three previous containment operations, and now threatens the 3.2 million residents of Liuzhou city in Guangxi province. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, January 30, 2012]

Thousands of police, soldiers and fire brigade officers have been mobilised to halt the spill, which has sparked panic buying of bottled water and underscored the environmental cost that China is paying for its rapid economic growth. At Nuomintan dam - 60km upstream - cadmium concentrations are eight times higher than safety levels, prompting the authorities to warn locals not to drink from affected stretches of the river. Cadmium is a known carcinogen that can also damage the lungs, bones and kidneys.

Chinese media has been filled with images of paramilitary police in red and green biohazard outfits dumping clean-up agents into the river in clouds of yellow dust. Since the spill was discovered earlier this month, the authorities have been pouring more than 300 tonnes of polyaluminium chloride and caustic soda into the water each day in an attempt to flocculate (clump together) the cadmium so that it can be filtered.

The source of the spill is still being investigated, but the possible culprits - six metal companies and a mine - have been temporarily shut down and the authorities say no new toxins are entering the water. In an attempt to dilute the contamination, the worst affected town of Hechi has increased the flow of water from an upstream dam.

The authorities have provided bottled water to two villages, but they insist drinking supplies in Liuzhou will not be affected. Zhang Jian, the spokesman of the Liuzhou government, told the Guardian the city was able to treat the water safely as long as cadmium levels were within twice the national standard. If that was not possible, he said the government was prepared to tap substantial underground supplies owned by a nearby railway. "I promise citizens that we will not cut off water. When they turn the tap, the water will be safe to drink," he said. The clearing of bottled water in some supermarkets suggests, however, that local people are taking no chances.

AFP reported: China has detained seven company executives after suspected industrial waste discharges polluted a river with toxic cadmium, threatening drinking supplies for millions, state media said yesterday. One company, called Jinhe Mining Co, has been blamed for dumping cadmium into the river, in a spill that was discovered on Jan. 15. [Source: AFP, February 1, 2012]

The initial spill happened in Hechi City, but was now flowing downstream, endangering drinking water for 1.5 million people in Liujiang City. It was also approaching Liuzhou City, with a population of 3.7 million, reports said. “It is a critical time right now, as downstream drinking water safety is in jeopardy,” Hechi Mayor He Xinxing was quoted by Xinhua as saying. In its one update the Liuzhou City Government said cadmium levels were 1.6 times higher than the government standard.

Toxic Chemical Spill in a Tributary of the Yellow River

The Zhuo Zhang River is a tributary of the Yellow River that originates on in the Loess Plateau and Shanxi Province and flows eastward through the industrial areas along the border of Henan and Hebei, two of the country's most populous provinces. Yi Lu wrote in The Atlantic, “On December 31, 2012, Thirty-nine tons of aniline -- a toxic derivative of benzene used in dyeing processes -- sliced through a crack in pipeline in Changzhi, Shanxi, and quickly spewed downstream. Within days, both the river and a reservoir were contaminated. According to official accounts, the reservoir was disused and absorbed 30 tons of the leaked aniline. At a time when the flow of information was crucial, politics trumped life: The water supply to Handan, a major downstream city of more than one million residents, was not cut off until January 5, five days after the accident, when Changzhi officials notified the Shanxi provincial government for the first time. [Source: Yi Lu, Tea Leaf Nation, The Atlantic, January 15, 2013 <>]

Leslie Hook wrote in the Financial Times, “A toxic chemical spill in the heart of China’s coal country has poisoned drinking water for millions and sparked a public outcry across the country after local government officials took almost a week to reveal the accident. On Monday, the city of Changzhi, the coal town in Shanxi province where the spill occurred, ordered 112 chemical plants in the area to close for emergency inspections to check for “hidden dangers” in the wake of the accident. Downstream cities are implementing emergency measures to avoid tapping the poisoned water, including partially shutting off municipal water supplies in some areas. [Source: Leslie Hook, Financial Times, January 7, 2012 ><]

“The Changzhi spill happened at a fertiliser factory on December 31, but local authorities did not reveal the accident for six days. A ruptured pipe accidentally released nearly 40 tonnes of aniline, a carcinogenic chemical that can cause damage to human organs if consumed. The amount of aniline released into the river is enough to contaminate a body of water the size of 3,600 Olympic swimming pools, based on China’s standards for river water. The spill was disclosed only after the toxic chemicals had already contaminated a large reservoir downstream that serves as a water source for two cities with a combined population of 3 million. ><

“The big problem is again the covering up,” said Ma Jun, author of the book China’s Water Crisis, pointing out that a similar attempt to cover up a massive benzene spill on the Songhua River in 2005 exacerbated the problem. He said the impact of this spill would be amplified because it occurred in a very dry area. ><

Anger Over Toxic Chemical Spill in a Tributary of the Yellow River

Leslie Hook wrote in the Financial Times, “Despite a rare apology from the mayor of Changzhi for failing to disclose the spill, public anger over the accident and cover-up reached a crescendo on Monday. One editorial in a state-run news service warned that water issues could easily escalate into a “flashpoint” for protest and dubbed the Changzhi spill “watergate”. [Source: Leslie Hook, Financial Times, January 7, 2012 ><]

In Handan, a city of 1 million that had municipal water supplies cut , local columnist Lian Peng posted on Weibo, China’s leading Twitter equivalent: “As a Handan citizen, I feel extraordinarily angry . . . Those who concealed the truth should be held responsible. Our information now is limited . . . We still don’t have a sufficient understanding of the issue of water resources. Sooner or later, we will pay a heavy price.” ><

"When I opened the tap this morning, there was first water in the color of rusted copper; even after half an hour, the sink was still a pool of yellow milk," a Sina Weibo user wrote on January 6, the first day of the mass water stoppage that crippled thousands in Handan. "Do you dare to cook with such water? I should have joined the water raid last night and bought some bottled water!"? But even with gouged prices, the precious liquid was hard to find. Rumors? circulated on the Internet that the city would be without water for three more days. Many residents -- who literally woke up to a crisis -- rushed to stores and bagged any beverages they could find. [Source: Yi Lu, Tea Leaf Nation, The Atlantic, January 15, 2013 <>]

“As anger roiled, authorities hastened to restore the city's water supply. Underground reservoirs were opened. Workers, nearly 5,000 in number, were called for an immediate clean-up. By January 7, water in Handan flowed again from taps, though many residents continued to voice fears about its safety. Popular online were treatment solutions at home: "Aniline is absorbable through skin contact, so even water for rinsing vegetables must be filtered," wrote an environmental activist. "Filter and boil bath water for your children thoroughly to ensure maximal evaporation of the chemical." <>

“Yet no home remedy was able to check the torrents of anger over the official handling of the crisis. On January 7, the mayor of Changzhi apologized for the delayed notification, which, he claimed, was a result of authorities' underestimating the extent of the damage?. But for many Web users who had been consuming the tainted water unawares for five days, the authorities' silence was a grisly act of cover-up. "As a Handan resident, I am simply outraged. The government treats its people with no respect at all. Why did Shanxi report the incident only after five days?" a weibo columnist wrote, exasperated. "Even with limited information, I ask why the chemical plant was located right next to the water source? Was there rigorous oversight? I have to say: We are not taking heed of water pollution. One day, we will pay a hefty price."? The Cost of Progress The price, however, is already being paid. <>

According to Caixin, the chemical spill in Changzhi on December 31 was the latest in a series of 18 major water pollution accidents in the span of just eight years. From Jiling to Guangdong, Jiangsu to Yunnan, industrial centers across China have been embroiled in a spate of water calamities whose damage and frequency are staggering. For ordinary people who depend on these water sources, however, the crisis last week -- and the hasty cover-up that ensued -- only revived their misgivings about government accountability. Suppression of news from the source, a common practice of local officials, was arguably more deadly than the contamination itself. >

100,000 Kilograms of Fish Killed by Ammonia in a Chinese River

In September 2013, Associated Press reported: “Chinese authorities have scooped up about 100,000kg (220,000lb) of dead fish they say were poisoned by ammonia from a chemical plant, environmental officials and state media said. The Hubei province environmental protection department, which was notified of the discovery in the Fuhe river, pointed the finger at local company Hubei Shuanghuan Science and Technology Stock Co. [Source: Associated Press, September 4, 2013 ~]

“Officials said sampling of its drain outlet showed that ammonia density far exceeded the national standard. The company has refused to comment. The incident has affected the nearby village of Huanghualao, where 1,600 residents make a living from fishing, said the village's Communist party secretary, Wang Sanqing. "The dead fish covered the entire river and looked like snowflakes," he said. He said the village had 150 fishing boats and could lose up to 70,000 yuan (about $100,000) a day. ~

“The environmental department warned the public not to eat the dead fish but said drinking water had not been affected. It ordered the company to suspend operations and fix the pollution problem. The official Xinhua news agency said about 100,000kg of dead fish had been cleared from 25 miles of the river but did not cite a figure for the number of fish. The environmental department confirmed "a great number of fish" had been recovered. ~

16,000 Dead Pigs Found in Shanghai’s Huangpu River

In March 2013, the carcasses of about 16,000 pigs dumped in Huangpu River, which flows through Shanghai. were pulled from its waters. The pigs were thought to have been dumped by swine farms upstream in Zhejiang,. Around the same time 1000 dead ducks were found dumped in the Nanhe River in Sichuan province.

In an early report, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, More than 2,800 dead pigs have been found in a major river that flows through Shanghai, igniting fears among city residents of contaminated tap water, according to state news media reports. Some reports said the pigs had probably been dumped by farmers into the Huangpu River, which slices through the heart of Shanghai. Officials were trying to determine who exactly had dumped the pigs. The numbers increased quickly over the weekend, and the total is expected to grow as search barges looking for pigs return to Shanghai. Shanghai Waterworks, which manages tap water in Shanghai, said Sunday night that the water still met drinking standards, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. Shanghai officials said the group was now monitoring the water quality by the hour. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 11, 2013]

A sample of the river water tested positive for porcine circovirus, which officials said can be found in pigs but does not spread to humans, Xinhua reported. “So far, water quality has not been affected, but we have to remove the pigs as quickly as possible and can’t let their bodies rot in the water,” Xu Rong, the director of Shanghai’s Songjiang District Environmental Protection Bureau, told Global Times, a state-run newspaper. A statement issued by the Shanghai government and posted on its Web site said that there were piglets as well as adult animals weighing hundreds of pounds. Residents in Songjiang District, the area southwest of downtown Shanghai where most of the pigs have been discovered, said this was not the first time they had seen dead pigs in the Huangpu River. But this time, the number was higher than in the past, according to the city government’s statement.

A preliminary inquiry has found that the dead pigs originated in Zhejiang Province, which is south of Shanghai and upstream on the Huangpu River. Songjiang District officials said they were gathering all the dead pigs in one place to safely dispose of them, Xinhua reported. Officials are trying to track the source of the pigs from marks on their ears.

Photographs of the carcasses floating in the river have circulated widely on the Internet. One photograph on the Web site of Global Times showed sanitation workers in orange vests and blue uniforms lifting carcasses from Hengliaojing Creek with long wooden poles. The accompanying report, citing a Shanghai news Web site, said the first batch was discovered in Hengliaojing Creek, near a water treatment plant in an area that is a protected water resource. Officials began sending out barges to collect the carcasses. Global Times said 12 boats were now involved in the recovery efforts.

More Dead Pigs Found as Chinese Are Jailed for Selling Unsafe Pork

Two days after the first reports, Associated Press and The Guardian reported: “Hundreds more dead pigs have been recovered from the Huangpu river in Shanghai following the discovery of more than 2,800 floating carcasses earlier this week. The find brings the total to more than 6,600 carcasses. A surge in the dumping of dead pigs followed police campaigns against the sale of pork products made from diseased pigs. The carcasses in the Huangpu are believed to come from pig farms upstream in the Jiaxing area of neighbouring Zhejiang province where a court sentenced 46 people to jail for producing unsafe pork from sick pigs that they had acquired and slaughtered between 2010 and 2012.The Xinhua News Agency said police in the city of Wenling had seized 6,218kg (13,708lb) of diseased pork. [Source: Associated Press, The Guardian, March 13, 2013 ++]

“In another operation last year, police in Jiaxing broke up a gang that was acquiring and slaughtering diseased pigs. Provincial authorities said police arrested 12 suspects and confiscated nearly 12 tonnes of tainted pork. Earlier, the Shanghai government said the city would continue to monitor water quality and test for viruses, including porcine circovirus, which is reported not to affect people. It said the city had disinfected some carcasses before either burying or incinerating them. ++

A week or so after first dead were found, David Barboza wrote in the New York Times, “The number of dead pigs found in a river near Shanghai rose to more than 13,000 over the weekend. Last Friday, the figure stood at about 7,500. The authorities, who are in the middle of a weeklong effort to collect the carcasses, are still trying to determine how the pigs died and why they ended up in the Huangpu River, which winds through Shanghai. The government has insisted that there is no evidence of an epidemic and that the food supply is safe. City officials also say the river meets national water quality standards. The authorities say they believe that many of the pigs came from the nearby city of Jiaxing, in Zhejiang Province, where there are major pig farms. [Source: David Barboza, New York Times, March 18, 2013]

Story Inspired by 13,000 Dead Pigs

After more than 6,600 pig carcasses were found floating in the Huangpu River, a major water source to Shanghai, cartoons incorporating imagery from the film Life of Pi proliferated online. This story, “Life of Pig,” begins with a Photoshopped image of the film poster. The author alludes to the flimsy reassurances of the now-defunct Railway Ministry after the 2011 Wenzhou train crash, drawing a connection to the current handling of Shanghai’s “hog wash.” At a press conference immediately after the crash, Railway Minister Wang Yongping told reporters that it was a “miracle” that a toddler was found among the wreckage after the rescue searches had ended. Asked why the rail cars were being buried at the scene, Wang explained this was to “facilitate rescue efforts.” When the journalists would have none of it, he went on, “Whether you believe it or not, it’s up to you, but I do anyway. Wang lost his job amid public outcry over his remarks. [Source: China Digital Times, March, 18, 2013]

“Dear reporters, after you hear today’s press conference, you will believe in God.” The opening statement of Shanghai government spokesman stuns the dozens of reporters in the room. The conference hall is completely silent. The spokesman begins, “Upriver along the beautiful and fecund Huangpu, there lives a hardworking and kind-hearted family. They keep ten thousand pigs, all of which are strong of body and sound of mind. Across the way lives another hardworking and kind-hearted family. They grow ten thousand banana trees, whose burgeoning leaves flutter in the breeze.

“But one day, a storm from the Pacific Ocean hits Shanghai and arouses the pigs’ curiosity. They tumble out of the pigsty, in awe at the might of God. But as the rain pours down harder, the pigsty is flooded. The pigs are flushed out to the Huangpu. At this critical moment, a gust of wind blows down all the banana trees across the road. Bunch after bunch of bananas falls into the river. The pigs quickly jump onto the bananas and drift down the Huangpu.

“They float for three days and three nights. Just as they become tired and hungry, a small island appears in the river. The island is dense with water grass. Meerkats dart from every corner. There is a small, crystal-clear lake. The pigs jump onto the island and feed happily. But at night, the situation changes drastically. Acid water surges up from the lake. The pigs realize that this is in fact a pig-eating island. They decide to give up this paradise, once again jump onto the bananas and float towards their idyll—Shanghai.

“Regretfully, just as they are about to reach Shanghai, the temperature suddenly drops. Sitting on the bananas and floating down the river, battered by wind and frost, the pigs freeze to death. But because they died of cold and not disease, they won’t impact the quality of the water in Shanghai. Everyone, please drink without worry.” At this point, he points to a glass of water on the table and says, “You see, I got this glass of water out of the Huangpu today. I’ll drink it as a toast, and then you may help yourselves.” He picks up the glass and shallows it in one gulp. Then he shines the drained glass at the reporters, smiling and nodding with respect. The hall falls silent. The reporters can’t help but be transfixed by this astounding story. Some have tears in their eyes, others pray with their eyes closed or look up to the sky, murmuring.

Suddenly, one reporter asks shyly, “But we all know that bananas can’t float on water…” The spokesman rebukes her, “I can just say that this is a miracle of life. Whether you believe it or not, I do anyway.” “But most Shanghainese don’t believe in God,” another reporter chimes in. “Could you give us a story they’ll buy?” “You want a story without miracles?” The spokesperson is now a little irritated. He sits up straight, scans the hall, and says, “Up the Huangpu, there are many people who raise pigs. They are selfish and never hesitate in harming other people to benefit themselves. They are afraid that if they bury pigs which have died from illness, the infection will spread. So when their pigs die from disease, they simply throw them into Huangpu. This has happened many times. Local residents have reported this to the authorities. When the dead pigs reached Shanghai, we also told the city government. But these farmers all pay tribute, so the local government doesn’t give a sh*t. We don’t know what to do, either.”

“An epidemic has been spreading recently. A lot of pigs have died. Those pig farmers still hold to their old solution, throwing the dead pigs into the Huangpu. By the time the bodies reach Shanghai, they’ve been pickling in the river for ages, and have already rotted. Would you say this water is fit to drink? I can’t say myself. But regardless, I wouldn’t dare to drink water from the Huangpu even if there weren’t dead pigs soaking in it. To be honest, the glass I drank just now came from a bottle of mineral water–are you satisfied now?”The reporters exchange looks, speechless. “So,” the spokesman glares at them, “which story would you like to report?” “The previous one…” “The first one…” The reporters murmur. The spokesman smiles wanly. “Good. You have indeed chosen a miraculous occupation.”

Dead Pigs Shine Light on China’s Illegal Pork Trade

Peter Ford wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, “The discovery of the dead pigs has thrown a spotlight on a little-known practice that insiders say is not uncommon in China: Farmers sell pigs that have died from disease to underground traders, who then sell the pork illegally to consumers and food processing firms. Forty-six men were jailed in Wenling, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, for selling meat from sick pigs. Wenling is not far from Jiaxing, another hog-rearing district whence officials say the pigs found in the Huangpu are believed to have come. [Source: Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, March 14, 2013 \\\\]

“In the past two years at least six other similar cases have come to court in different parts of China, suggesting that the practice is widespread. “The pig mortality rate is high and farmers sell the carcasses to people in the illegal business so as to recoup some of their losses,” says Feng Yonghui, an analyst with Zhongkeyiheng, an agri-business consultancy in Beijing. “Big cities supervise the animal trade strictly, so the sale of sick corpses is not common in Shanghai,” adds Lin Rongquan, a retired veterinarian who advises the Shanghai government on food safety issues. “But it happens in smaller cities because supervision departments don’t always do their job properly.” \\\\

“The Zhejiang police announced on their website that they had launched a crackdown earlier this year on the illegal pork business. “Since the police stepped up their efforts ... nobody has come here to buy dead pigs and the problem of pig dumping is worse than ever this year,” one pig farmer was quoted as saying in the Jiaxing Daily, a newspaper run by the local government. \\\\

“Pork is a staple food in China, which has the largest porcine population in the world. Its 475 million pigs represent nearly half the global total. Some 70 percent of these animals are raised by small farmers, and mortality rates are high. In the town of Jiaxing alone nearly 750,000 pigs die of disease every year, estimates Mr. Lin. By law, these carcasses should be either buried or cremated, but the temptation to bypass the law by selling or dumping them is strong for small farmers who are working to tight profit margins. \\\\

“For a start, says Lin, “these individual farmers have little sensitivity to official regulations.” At the same time, Mr. Feng points out, digging deep burial holes is tiresome “and lots of farmers don’t have enough land to dig holes anyway.” Cremation, meanwhile, is expensive and not always feasible. In Jiaxing, for example, all the cremation centers were reported to have been working at full capacity following a cold spell that killed an unusual number of piglets. \\\\

“And though the Ministry of Agriculture regulations set generous rates of compensation for cremated animals, “in real life the money takes a long time to come through if it ever comes at all,” says Feng, “because nobody ensures that the law is enforced.” The result, he adds, is that farmers often do not bother to take their carcasses for official cremation.Though the rules on how dead animals should be disposed of are strict, agrees Lin, incidents such as the recent appearance of thousands of pigs in the Huangpu reveal official incompetence. “The local authorities are meant to know how many pigs are being reared in their district and how many have died, but they are not saying anything because they do not want to take responsibility” for the scandal, says Lin. “They did not do their job properly.” \\\\

Oil Spill from Pipeline Explosion in Dalian

China's worst reported oil spill occurred in July 2010, when two massive pipeline at Dalian, a busy northeastern port, exploded and oil poured into the sea, spreading over at least 165 square miles (430 square kilometres). The explosion produced a massive fire that burned for 15 hours. Two weeks after the explosion scars of the fire could still be seen on massive storage silos, covered in black soot. Five days afterwards Greenepeace estimated the oil had spread over 165 square miles (430 square kilometers) of water five days since

In late July, Chris Hogg of the BBC reported: “China is struggling to clean up what has being described as the country's worst oil spill, a fortnight after a fire at an oil depot caused crude to leak into the sea for several days. An army of volunteers and fishermen has been mobilised to help clean up the pollution from the area around the port of Dalian, one of China's most important strategic oil reserves.

“China says the oil slick is under control and has not reached international waters. That is thanks in no small part to the efforts of the fishermen. But conditions are grim for those involved. The scene at a small harbour where they are collecting the oil is like something out of the 19th Century. Fishermen covered in oil, some of them working just in their underwear, scrape up the toxic sludge that spilled out of the jars they have brought back from the open sea. No one is wearing protective goggles, facemasks or even gloves to protect them from the hazardous chemicals in the oil.It takes them four or five hours to sail back from where they collect the oil on the open sea. They have to wait until nightfall, when the temperature drops, and the oil is at its most viscous, to scoop it out.

Oil Spill from Offshore Platforms in Bay of Bohai

In July 2011, AP reported that Chinese newspapers such as Southern Weekend reported large oil spills occured in China's largest offshore oil field, in the Bohai Penglai 19-3 oil field in Bohai Bay off the northeast coast. The field is a joint venture between China National Offshore Oil Corp. and ConocoPhillips China. The first spill occurred around June 10 about 38 kilometres (25 miles) off the coast of Shandong province and was cleaned up in a few days. Another spill in late July was likewise said to be contained relatively quickly, the reports said. It was unclear what caused the spills, how many had occurred or if they were continuing.[Source: AP, July 1, 2011]

In late August 2011, ConocoPhillips said, it has discovered new oil seeps in an area of China's Bohai Bay where it faces a deadline to clean up spills from earlier this summer. Of 16 seeps found in the Penglai 19-3 oilfield, each about the size of a small coin, only two were still visible and known to be sometimes active, the company said in a statement.

AP reported in September 2011, “According to ConocoPhillips, the spills released about 700 barrels of oil into Bohai Bay and 2,500 barrels of mineral oil-based drilling mud, which is used for lubrication, onto the seabed. All but a small fraction of that oil and mud has been recovered, and the small amounts still emerging are from earlier seeps that have been shifting under layers of sand on the seabed, it says. [Source: Elaine Kurtenbach, AP, September 5, 2011]

But the State Oceanic Administration contends that monitoring by satellite, underwater robots and other means shows the oil is still seeping. It criticized ConocoPhillips' containment measures as stopgap and said the company may have caused oil to seep through faults in the seabed by putting too much pressure on the oil reservoir.

Dong Xiucheng, a professor at the China University of Petroleum, described the accident as "unusual." "It is hard technically to find the reason and the exact location of the spill and to try to stop it since it is on the seabed not in a pipeline. Both ConocoPhillips and CNOOC must have tried to do it, but it takes time," Dong said.

Clean Up of the Oil Spill from Offshore Platforms in Bay of Bohai

AP reported in September 2011,”The oil spills from offshore wells operated by ConocoPhillips in China's Bohai Bay are posing political and technical challenges for the oil company far messier than the crude and drilling mud seeping from the seabed. The company said Monday that it had complied with a government order to suspend all drilling, water injection and production at the affected Penglai 19-3 oil field, one of China's biggest. [Source: Elaine Kurtenbach, AP, September 5, 2011]

Operations are currently stopped at 180 producing wells and 51 injecting wells, for a total of 231 wells, said a statement by Houston, Texas-based ConocoPhillips, which operates the field in a venture with state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. CNOOC, which owns 51 percent of the venture, said the suspension of production in Penglai 19-3 would reduce output by 40,000 barrels a day, in addition to the 22,000 barrels a day lost with the shutdown of the two wells where the spills occurred.

For such big oil companies, the loss is not a major blow, though for ConocoPhillips, Penglai 19-3 is its largest project in China, noted Thomas Grieder, analyst for Asia-Pacific energy at IHS Global Insight. Regardless of the tensions provoked by the spills, China is relying ever more heavily on foreign partners for the technology it needs to tap difficult to exploit deepwater oil reserves, said Grieder.

Criticism Over the Handling of the Oil Spill in Bay of Bohai

The spills have unleashed a flood of criticism inside China over how ConocoPhillips has handled the cleanup. The State Oceanic Administration rejected the company's assertion that it had met an Aug. 31 deadline to completely clear up any damage and prevent further seeps.

Chinese maritime authorities facing pressure from fisheries and environmentalists to minimize further damage to the already heavily polluted Bohai appear to have lost patience with the prolonged effort to staunch the oil seeps. "ConocoPhillips has not been able to address this problem for two months and the Chinese authorities are losing face. It's kind of an inevitable reaction to something that's been going on a while," Grieder said.

ConocoPhillips has pointed to safety concerns and other difficulties in capping and cleaning up the oil and mud in murky seas with minimal visibility. "Addressing the issue is rather complex," Grieder said. "They're trying to identify small cracks on the sea floor in a situation where you can't see much." The company said that divers searched the ocean floor and that remote-controlled robots were taking seabed samples to monitor the situation. The company said it was working with CNOOC on a plan to reduce pressure in the oil reservoir and was preparing a revised environmental impact report.

The maritime authority has said it is preparing to file lawsuits on behalf of those who suffered losses due to pollution from the spill. Apart from frictions over the pace and progress of the cleanup, state-run media and environmentalists have been lobbying for harsher penalties for such accidents---current law calls for maximum fines of 200,000 yuan (less than $31,000).

The official newspaper China Daily, in a harshly worded commentary said that a joint investigation by seven government departments found ConocoPhillips China had "seriously violated operating rules." "Not only is the oil spill worse than the company reported but, despite its assurances to the contrary, it has failed to bring the situation under full control and find and stop the sources of the spills," it said. "Obviously, China needs to learn a lesson from this incident."

ConocoPhillips has denied allegations that it sought to mislead the maritime authority by falsely claiming to have stopped and cleaned up the oil seeps. The company said it was committed to complying with the law and conducting "all business activities with the highest ethical standards." "This commitment fully applies to how we conduct our business in China," it said.

Image Sources: 1) Northeast Blog; 2) Gary Braasch; 3) ESWN, Environmental News; 4, 5) China Daily, Environmental News ; 6) NASA; 7, 8) Xinhua, Environmental News

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2014

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