ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN CHINA, POLLUTION AND HEALTH PROBLEMS

ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN CHINA

Environmental problems in China are already at a critical level and they are getting worse. Rapid development has transformed huge swaths of the country into environmental wastelands. Acid rain corrodes the Great Wall; parts of the Grand Canal resemble open sewers; parts of Shanghai are slowly sinking because water beneath them has been sucked out; and some cities are so clogged with air pollution they don't appear in satellite pictures. Reports indicate that only 32 percent of China's industrial waste is treated in any sort of way. Already there are concerns of millions of environmental refugees in China and sulfurous rain clouds drifting from China to Japan and Korea.

The major current environmental issues in China are air pollution (greenhouse gases and sulfur dioxide particulates) from overreliance on coal, which produces acid rain; water shortages, particularly in the north; water pollution from untreated wastes; deforestation; an estimated loss of 20 percent of agricultural land since 1949 to soil erosion and economic development; desertification; and illegal trade in endangered species. Deforestation has been a major contributor to China’s most significant natural disaster: flooding. In 1998 some 3,656 people died and 230 million people were affected by flooding. China’s national carbon dioxide emissions are among the highest in the world and increasing annually. The carbon dioxide emissions in 1991 were estimated at 2.4 billion tons; by 2000 that level, according to United Nations (UN) statistics, had increased by 16 percent to nearly 2.8 billion tons. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), between 1990 and 2002 the increase was closer to 45 percent. These amounts cited by the UN are more than double those of India and Japan but still less than half those of the United States (comparable figures for Russia are unavailable but estimated at probably half the level of China’s). China’s ozone depleting potential also is high but was decreasing in the early twenty-first century. The carbon dioxide emissions are mostly produced by coal-burning energy plants and other coal-burning operations. Better pollution control and billion-dollar cleanup programs have helped reduced the growth rate of industrial pollution.

Canadian scholar Vaclav Smith, an expert of China's environment, has called China "the world's most worrisome case of environmental degradation." "The Chinese," wrote travel writer Paul Theroux, have “moved mountains, diverted rivers, wiped out the animals, eliminated the wilderness; they had subdued nature and had it screaming for mercy...In Chinese terms prosperity always spelled pollution.”

The main problem is China’s greatest success---it phenomenal economic growth---is the main forces behind its environmental problems. Factories that dump pollutants into the air and water produce cheaper products than ones that filter out pollutants and treat waste water. It is hard to see the Chinese making sacrifices to improve their environment if it means slowing economic growth. Jennifer Turner of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars told Discover magazine, “What’s different about China is the scale and speed of pollution and environmental degradation...It’s like nothing the world has ever seen.”

Kenneth R. Weiss wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The colossal industrial expansion of recent decades has depleted natural resources and polluted the skies and streams. China now consumes half the world's coal supply. It leads all nations in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming. Pollutants from its smokestacks cause acid rain in Seoul and Tokyo. Within China, signs of environmental damage are pervasive: massive fish kills, lung-searing smog, denuded landscapes. They have stirred popular discontent and the beginnings of greater official concern for curbing pollution and preserving natural resources. [Source: Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2012]

Websites and Resources

Book: The River Runs Black by Elizabeth C. Economy (Cornell, 2004) is one of the best recently-written books on China’s environmental problems. In his book China on the Edge: the Crisis of Ecology and Development in China, the Chinese intellectual He Bochun argues that in many ways China's environmental problems have already reached catastrophic levels.

Good Websites and Sources: China Environmental News Blog china-environmental-news.blogspot.com ; China.Org (Chinese Government Environmental News china.org.cn/english/environment ; New York Times Multimedia Series on Pollution in China nytimes.com ; China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) english.mep.gov.cn ; EIN News Service’s China Environment News einnews.com/china/newsfeed-china-environment Wikipedia article on Environment of China ; Wikipedia ; China Environmental Protection Foundation (a Chinese Government Organization) cepf.org.cn/cepf_english ;Global Environmental Institute (a Chinese non-profit NGO) geichina.org ; Beijing Energy Network (a Chinese grassroots environmental group) greenleapforward.com ; Greenpeace China greenpeace.org/china/en ; China Digital Times Collection of Articles chinadigitaltimes.net ; Brief History of Chinese Environment planetark.com ; Article on Wetlands Degradation library.utoronto.ca ; Useful But Dated Source List on te Environment and China newton.uor.edu ; China Environmental Forum at the Wilson Center wilsoncenter.org ; International Fund for China’s Environment ifce.org ; China Watch worldwatch.org ; China Environmental law Blog chinaenvironmentallaw.com ; World Resources Institute wri.org ; China Environmental Industry Network cein.net

Ma Jun’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs has a registry of environmental problems in China.

Links in this Website: ENVIRONMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GLOBAL WARMING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER SHORTAGES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DEFORESTATION AND DESERTIFICATION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GARBAGE AND RECYCLING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;ENVIRONMENT, GOVERNMENT POLICY AND FIGHTING POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS AND PROTESTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING, POLLUTION WEATHER Factsanddetails.com/China ; LAND AND GEOGRAPHY OF CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEATHER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DAMS AND HYDRO POWER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; THREE GORGES AND THREE GORGES DAM Factsanddetails.com/China ; COAL IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; NUCLEAR POWER AND ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

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Pollution in China

China is the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, number one energy user and arguably the most polluted nation on earth. It is home to some of the world’s most polluted rivers and water supplies. Of the 20 dirtiest cities on the globe, 16 are in China, according to the World Bank. Two Chinese cities---Linfen, in the heart of Shanxi Province’s coal country, and Tianying, a lead mining and processing center---made the top 10 on a list of the world’s most polluted cities by the Blacksmith Institute. Three Chinese cities---Tianying, Huaxi and Wanshan---made the top 10 list for cities in the world with the worst pollution by heavy metals. Estimates are that pollution in China will only get worse as China’s 1.3 billion people get richer and buy motorbikes, cars, and air conditioners and travel on airplanes. Increases in emissions and demand for coal might make China’s air 70 percent worse by 2030, according to Deutsche Bank AG.

Ramez Naam wrote in the Slate: China is an environmental mess. Smog in Beijing is so bad it’s literally broken the air-quality index. In Shanghai, it’s at times turned the city into a scene from Blade Runner. (It almost matches the infamous Cleveland smog of the 1970s.) Meanwhile, thousands of dead pigs—cause of death not yet known—have been floating down a river that cuts through Shanghai and provides part of the region’s drinking water. More than half of China’s water is so polluted, in fact, that even treatment plants can’t make it safe to drink. And China is now responsible for almost half the world’s coal consumption. That coal burning not only contributes to climate change—it’s also saddled China with severe cases of acid rain, something the United States dealt with a generation ago. [Source: Ramez Naam, Slate, May 8, 2013]

Toxic emissions are slipping into groundwater supplies. A report released in February 2009, stated that decades of heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer have contaminated groundwater supplies, increased acid rain, acidification and greenhouse emissions, The report encourages farmers to change their farming practices and reduced their dependence on synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and use alternatives such as manures and crop residues.

Pollution is getting worse but is difficult to tell by how much worse because the government generally doesn't release statistics on pollution and when it does the data is often times of dubious quality. There are lots of environmental laws on the books---at least 230 at last count---but the problem is that they are rarely enforced. Cement factories, steel mills, chemical factories, and coal-fired power plants are among the biggest polluters. Pollution from factories and power plants is rising by 9 percent a year. Pollution from vehicles is rising fast.

On living with Chinese pollution, Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “After four years in Beijing, I’ve learned how to gauge the pollution before I open the curtains; by dawn on the smoggiest days, the lungs ache. The city government does not dwell on the details; its daily air-quality measurement does not even tally the tiniest particles of pollution, which are the most damaging to the respiratory system. Last year, the U.S. Embassy installed an air monitor on the roof of one of its buildings, and every hour it posts the results to a Twitter feed, with a score ranging from 1, which is the cleanest air, to 500, the dirtiest. American cities consider anything above 100 to be unhealthy. The rare times in which an American city has scored above 300 have been in the midst of forest fires. In these cases, the government puts out public-health notices warning that the air is “hazardous” and that “everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors.” As I type this in Beijing, the Embassy’s air monitor says that today’s score is 500. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, December 21, 2009]

China Faces “Very Grave” Environmental Situation

Ian Johnson of Reuters wrote: “China’s three decades of rapid economic growth have left it with a “very grave” environmental situation even as it tries to move away from a development-at-all-costs strategy, senior government officials. In a blunt assessment of the problems facing the world’s most populous country, officials from the Ministry of Environmental Protection delivered their 2010 annual report. They pointed to major improvements in water and air quality---goals that the ministry had set for itself over a five-year period ending in December. The targets were met, with pollutants in surface water down 32 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions in cities down 19 percent. [Source: Ian Johnson, Reuters, June 3, 2011]

But officials cautioned that many other problems were serious and scarcely under control. “The overall environmental situation is still very grave and is facing many difficulties and challenges,” said Li Ganjie, the vice minister. Mr. Li said biodiversity was declining with “a continuous loss and drain of genetic resources.” The countryside was becoming more polluted, he added, as dirty industries were moved out of cities and into rural areas. Mr. Li pledged to control contamination by heavy metals, which resulted in many cases of lead poisoning. He said China needed a law to regulate heavy metals, and he was confident it would be written and passed soon.” [Ibid]

“But the signs are growing that environmental neglect is causing instability,” Johnson wrote. “Protests in Inner Mongolia last week were partly due to concerns that industries like coal and mining---largely dominated by ethnic Chinese---are destroying the grasslands used for herding by the indigenous Mongolians. Similar conflicts have arisen in other sensitive ethnic areas like Tibet and Xinjiang. “In some of these areas that are very fragile, we will strictly limit development,” Mr. Li pledged. He Li said that more than a fifth of the land that has been set aside as nature reserves had been illegally developed by companies, often with local government collusion.” [Ibid]

Unsustainability in China

"China is involved in a race against time," Patrick Tyler wrote in the New York Times, "a race against the rapid depletion of the country's natural resources and the demands of its own population explosion." One Chinese intellectual told Tyler: "China as a whole is weak in ecological stability and society has not realized the seriousness of this problem."

"If anybody's economic development is unsustainable, it's China's," one scholar told the Wall Street Journal, "Many people in the top leadership are aware that it's bad to develop and let the environment slip. But their hearts aren't in it."

According to some estimates, China needs to spend around $50 billion over five years to make a dent in water and its air pollution problem. The problem is so severe that environmentalists in the U.S. are trying to get money earmarked for U.S. environmental problems reappropriated to China. "A billion dollars spent in the U.S. on equipment or technology would get you only a fraction of the progress you'd get with $1 billion in a country like China," one environmentalist said. [Source: Wall Street Journal]

See Water Pollution

See Chemical Industry, Industries, Economics

Consequences and Costs Environmental Problems in China

Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley wrote in the New York Times, “Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not a major long-term burden to the Chinese public but also an active political challenge to the ruling Communist Party... Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death....Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breath air considered safe.” In industrial cities people rarely see the sun; children become sickened by lead poisoning. Coastal areas and even lakes suffer from red tides; rivers emit fumes that make people feel sick and gives them cancer.

The World Bank has calculated that pollution and associated health problems cost China 3 percent of GDP, with water pollution accounting for half of the losses. According to other estimates if sick days and forest and farmland loses are factored in environmental degradation may cost China as much 5 percent or even 10 percent of GNP. If these figures are true then real economic growth in China is between 5 percent and 7 percent not 10 percent and 11 percent.

In July 2013, according to the New York Times, an official Chinese news report said the cost of environmental degradation in China was about $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product. The estimate, said to be partial, came from a research institute under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and was three times the amount in 2004, in local currency terms. It was unclear to what extent those numbers took into account the costs of health care and premature deaths because of pollution. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, July 8, 2013 <>]

China’s Global Environmental Impact

In “The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World,” Craig Simons writes about the impact that China is having on the environment in other parts of the world. He told the New York Times: “China only began to seek significant amounts of natural resources abroad over the last decade or so, and those demands are likely to grow dramatically before they plateau. But unlike for Europe or the United States, China’s growth curve is rising at a time when the world’s environments already are severely degraded. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 12, 2013 |+|]

“The most surprising thing was the reach of Chinese demands....It seemed there wasn’t anywhere that China hadn’t touched. One poignant example I found was a petition by Arkansas-based environmental groups to ban the collection of wild turtles because some species faced possible extinction due largely to Chinese demand for turtle meat. Even though data on U.S. turtle exports is spotty, they found that more than 256,000 wild-caught turtles were exported to Asia from the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas airport alone between 2002 and 2005. Another example is that air pollutants from China (as from other nations) are now reaching around the world. Dust, ozone, carbon monoxide and mercury polluted into the atmosphere in China are now regularly settling back to Earth in North America and other continents. |+|

“While Chinese officials have become acutely aware of the impacts of China’s development policies on its own environment, there is little public awareness of the effects of Chinese consumption on foreign nations. Despite that China is now considered the world’s largest importer of illegally felled logs, few Chinese have thought about the problems caused by illegal logging. Likewise, few Chinese think about the impacts on wildlife of consuming traditional medicines and exotic species. I’ve seen animal parts, including tiger bone and rhino horn, for sale at Chinese markets and restaurants. Studies have also found a widespread desire to eat wildlife: according to a 2010 study by Traffic, the environmental NGO, for example, 44 percent of people interviewed in six Chinese cities had consumed wildlife in the previous year; most believed that eating many wild species should be a personal choice. With climate change there’s more nuance, since the central government has made a very public push to improve energy efficiency and to increase the use of renewable energy sources. But experts believe that at the local level, most officials continue to focus on economic growth. |+|

“If the current trends continue, we can expect more of the world’s remaining old-growth forests — which today make up a small part of remaining forested areas—to be logged and more species to become threatened or extinct. Without a Chinese commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions, we could also anticipate that the global community would be unlikely to generate a serious effort to address global warming. China is thus one key (the United States is the other) to coming together to save what remains: its impacts are so large and are growing so quickly that without Beijing’s participation, governments will have difficulty generating the political will to act. |+|

In April 2010, a Chinese coal carrier ran aground off Australia on a shoal in the Great Barrier reef, leaking three tons of oil and pulverizing part of a shoal. Reef scientists said that it could take 20 years for the reef to completely recover. The owners of the ship---Shenzhen Energy Transport---admitted that the ship had strayed off course and apologized for the mishap.

Discarded lighters and bottle caps from Japan, Korea and China that floated across the Pacific Ocean to the Midway Islands near Hawaii have been be blamed for killing endangered Laysan albatross chicks that ingested the objects after being given them by their mothers, mistaking them for food. The young birds were unable to digest the plastic and were weakened as a result. Researchers who examined the dead chicks found 80 lighters with Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing inside them.

See Air Pollution

Book: “The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World” by Craig Simons (St. Martin’s Press 2013). Craig Simons is a former Asia correspondent for Cox Newspapers and a former Peace Corps volunteer in China.

Pollution-Related Health Problems in China

According to the World Bank and the World Health Organization about 750,000 die every year form pollution-related ailments. See Air Pollution and Water Pollution

The number of babies born with birth defects increased from 104.9 in 10,000 births in 2000 to 145.5 in 10,000 births in 2007. Many blame pollution.

In September 2009, chemicals from a plastics factory disposed of in an illegal site was blamed for killing three and injuring 17, including four children who played near the site, in the industrial city of Dongynag in Zhejiang Province. Most of the deaths were attributed to contamination by the industrial chemical dinitrophenol.

In May 2009, over 1,000 people that lived around the Jilin Chemical Fibre Group plant in Jilin city in northwest China complained of headaches, nausea and other illnesses. A total of 161 were hospitalized.

In June 2008, six people were killed and 28 fell ill from toxic gas---hydrogen sulfide--- leaking from a fertilizer plant in Kunming in Yunnan Province southwest China.

A study by researchers at Peking University and Oregon State University suggest that if pollution cutbacks implement during the 2008 Olympics were kept in place residents of Beijing would have their risk of getting lung cancer cut in half and 10,000 fewer people would get the disease. The study focused on PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that arrive from coal-burning, wood stoves and cars.

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River turned blood red from chemcial dyes

Pollution Linked to Lower Life Expectancy in Northern China

Life expectancy is 5.5 years lower in northern China than in the south because of heavy air pollution, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported. The study examined air quality readings collected in 90 Chinese cities from 1981 to 2000, and compared them with mortality data collected from 145 locations from 1991 to 2000.Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Other studies have established strong correlations between air pollution and poor health and attempted to quantify the resulting loss of life in China. The researchers found that a seemingly arbitrary Mao-era economic policy on coal-fired boilers for winter heating created dramatic differences in air quality within China. North of the Huai River, the government provided free coal, while people to the south were essentially denied central heat. This policy essentially created two groups that could be compared with each other, allowing the impact of burning coal on air quality – and on health – to be isolated and quantified. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2013 <^>]

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, ““The researchers project that the 500 million Chinese who live north of the Huai River will lose 2.5 billion years of life expectancy because of outdoor air pollution. “It highlights that in developing countries there’s a trade-off in increasing incomes today and protecting public health and environmental quality,” said the American member of the research team, Michael Greenstone, a professor of environmental economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “And it highlights the fact that the public health costs are larger than we had thought.” Mr. Greenstone said that another surprising result of the study was that the higher mortality rates were found across all age groups. Environmental degradation in the north is partly a result of the emissions of deadly pollutants from coal-driven energy generation. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, July 8, 2013 <>]

“The study is the first measuring this kind of impact that relies purely on data collected within China. Its conclusions are based on analyses of population groups living in areas north and south of the Huai River. The Chinese government has for years maintained a policy of free coal for boilers to generate winter heating north of the river, which runs parallel to and between the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. That policy and the ubiquity of northern coal-fired factories have contributed to the vast gap between the coal pollutants emitted in north and south. Howard Frumkin, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, said a “strong point” of the study was its basis in the “natural experiment” resulting from China’s disparate coal policies. “The results are biologically plausible, and consistent with previous research,” he said. <>

“For every additional 100 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter above the average pollution levels in the south, the life expectancy at birth drops by three years, the researchers found. Mr. Greenstone said that estimate could be roughly applied to other developing nations where the baseline level of pollutants was high. “This adds to the growing mountain of evidence of the heavy cost of China’s pollution,” said Alex L. Wang, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies Chinese environmental policies. “Other studies have shown significant near-term harms, in the form of illness, lost work days and even risks to children beginning in utero. This study suggests that the long-term harms of coal pollution might be worse than we thought.” <>

“The health statistics recorded through the two-decade period by Chinese officials and examined by the study’s researchers showed that the 5.5-year drop in life expectancy in the north was almost entirely due to a rise in deaths attributed to cardiorespiratory diseases or related health problems. The pollution data, also recorded by officials, indicated that the concentration of particulates north of the Huai was 184 micrograms per cubic meter higher than in the south, or 55 percent greater. <>

“We will never, thank goodness, have a randomized controlled trial where we expose some people to more pollution and other people to less pollution over the course of their lifetimes,” Greenstone told the Los Angeles Times. authors. “It’s not that the Chinese government set out to cause [a negative effect on health]. This was the unintended consequence" of the policy at the time. Greenstone and his Chinese and Israeli coauthors found that north of the river, total suspended particulates, or TSPs, were over 500 micrograms per cubic meter, or 55 percent higher than levels in the south. Life expectancy in the north was 5.5 years lower – almost entirely because of higher incidences of cardiorespiratory deaths. “It’s a huge loss. Air pollution in China is really damaging people’s health much more seriously than the findings in previous literature” would suggest, said Yuyu Chen of Peking University in Beijing, another author. “After this study, there should be no argument over whether we should take the air pollution issue seriously.... We need a comprehensive clean air act in China.” <^>

Mr. Greenstone told the New York Times he did not have a basis for comparing pollution levels now with those during the period covered by the study, 1981 to 2001. During that time, the method of measuring particulate matter was different. Mr. Greenstone also said he did not know how pollution in northern China affected the life expectancy for people not living there for their entire lives, or for residents of northern China who made frequent or long trips to less polluted areas. <>

Infertility in China Linked to Pollution

Fiona Keating of IB Times wrote: “China's pollution is believed to be a factor in a growing national infertility crisis, with infertility rates rising to 12.5 percent of all adults in China of child-bearing age. Around 20 years ago, the level was at 3 percent, and worryingly, sperm counts have dropped by 80 percent in Chinese men in 80 years. [Source: Fiona Keating, IB Times, February 1, 2014 /+/]

“Across China, over 40 million people have been diagnosed as infertile. A national study of air pollution and how it affects fertility is under way in China. In other investigations, the Chinese Academy of Sciences is looking into the effects of pollutants such as arsenic, plastic solvents and melamine on male infertility. /+/

“While some experts believe that 70 percent of female infertility and 50 percent of male infertility are the result of unhealthy lifestyles, others believe that environmental factors may also play a role. "New chemicals appear in our lives every day, and the problem is that we don't know if these new chemicals will pose risks to our health," Zhang Jun, lead researcher of the infertility study told the South China Morning Post. "So our study will be significant in providing evidence to prove if these chemicals are harmful. And based on that we can make our policies prevent any hazards from such environmental pollution."” /+/

‘Ugly’ Sperm Resulting from Pollution in China?

In November 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported: “In The fifty shades of gray hovering above China’s cities could be sapping the country’s men of their virility. That’s the message from one Chinese newspaper website citing findings from a sperm bank in Shanghai that monitored samples over a decade and found two-thirds were “affected” to various degrees by environmental factors. [Source: Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2013 ==]

“Potentially a source of couples’ bedroom disputes, the report is one of two this week feeding a frenzy of speculation on the Chinese Internet about how the country’s notorious pollution impacts reproductive health. Sperm can grow to be “ugly” and “not able to swim,” the head of the sperm bank, Li Zheng, told the Shanghai Morning Post (in Chinese), a newspaper owned by the military-run Liberation Daily. ==

“The discussion first erupted after a little known publication called the China Business Review ran a headline bound to get attention in a country more obsessed than most with children: “Smog Can Impact Humans’ Reproductive Ability and Immune System.” Below, the newspaper showed a rendering of how dust particles harm different organs in the human body. Both articles cite a new “green paper” on climate change issued by the China Meteorological Administration and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As one might expect, the report is mostly concerned with minimizing the carbon footprint of China’s urbanizing population, though it does making a passing mention, on page 248, of the negative effects on human health of air pollution. Particulate matter can “influence reproductive abilities,” it says. ==

“While neither the green paper nor the initial China Business Review story offered any data to support their claims, that hardly seemed to matter to the country’s microbloggers, who have long expected the worse from the air they breathe.China’s official news agency Xinhua reported a doctor saying that an eight-year old girl from the eastern province of Jiangsu had contracted lung cancer from prolonged exposure to harmful particles having lived near a dusty street. ==

“Previous studies have shown exposure to high levels of pollution can reduce the success rate of in vitro fertilization and drawn a link between toxic air and reduced fertility in men. In September, local media reported that scientists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Nanjing Medical University and Zhejiang University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences would conduct a national research study in 2014 to examine how toxins in the environment, including pollution, impact women trying to give birth. ==

“Mr. Li from the Shanghai sperm bank says it has been facing a lack of qualified sperm donors and quality sperm in the last decade, and that only one-third of its sperm meets World Health Organization standards, according to the report in the Shanghai Morning post. A spokesperson at Ruijin Hospital, which houses the sperm bank, said Mr. Li was not available for comment. Readers of the China Business Review article were far from reticent. The post elicited 441 comments, including one that sardonically proffered a silver lining: “Yes! No need to use condoms anymore.”

Cancer Villages and Deformed Babies in China

Increases in cancer rates of 19 percent in urban areas and 23 percent in rural area have been blamed on air and water pollution.

The most awful and shameful examples of how bad China’s pollution has become are the so-called cancer villages, where pollution in the water and air is blamed for surges in cancer rates. One such place is Yangqiao, a town in the wetlands of southeastern China that has been so fouled by the waste from chemical plants, the air is acrid and make people dizzy and yellow waste water seeps into irrigation ditches, producing sick dogs, dead fish, stunted crops and high cancer rates.

In March 2006, 130 people were hospitalized outside the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang Province in eastern China following a leak of poisonous gas from a chemical plant. Villagers reported seeing a cloud of gas floating across farmland killing crops and poultry and several days later began experiencing dizziness, sore throats, chest pains and skin irritation.

Pollution is also blamed for the increase in the number of deformed children in places where pollution levels are high. Babies born with deformities such as cleft palates, neural tube defects, congenital heart disease, water on the brain, and extra fingers and toes is up 6 percent a year nationwide---and 40 percent between 2001 and 2006---with rates much higher in place like the major coal-mining areas of Shanxi Province.

Shanxi is home to the world’s three most polluted cities. In addition to coal mining there is pollution from coke, steel and chemical industries. It also lead the world in the incidents of cleft palates and extra fingers among babies. Some parents whose children are born with extra toes cut them off so it is easier to buy shoes.

The river that flows through the village of Shangba in Guangdong Province is polluted by heavy metals. It varies in color from murky white to bright orange and is so viscous that it barely moves when winds blow on it. One villager told AP, “All the fish died, even chickens and ducks that drank the water died. If you put your leg in the water, you’ll get rashes and a terrible itch...Last years alone, six people in our villages died from cancer, and they were in their 30s and 40s.” Two girls, who often played in the river died at the ages of 12 and 18 from kidney and stomach cancer, which are rare among you people.

The source of much of the pollution is the state-owned Daboshan mine, which produces huge piles of tailing discarded next to rice fields and dumps large amounts of cadmium, a known carcinogen, as well as lead, zinc, indium and other metals into water supplies. Tests have shown high levels of cadmium and zinc in the drinking water and the rice. Stomach, liver kidney and colon cancer account for 85 percent of the cancers acquired by villagers.

Publicity on Shangba’s plight convinced the government to help foot the bill for a new reservoir and water system for the town. Liangqiao is a village contaminated by the same mine. The local river has a reddish color. Since the late 1990s cancer has caused two thirds of the deaths in the village. One villager there told Time, “We have to use the polluted water to irrigate our fields, since we don’t have any money to start a water project. We know very well that we are being poisoned by eating the grain. What more can we do? We can’t just wait to starve to death.”

See Separate Article on Cancer Villages

Fighting Pollution in China

A lot of effort and energy is going into improving the environment in China. Engineers are developing new technologies to fight pollution (see cement plants under Air Pollution). Concerned citizens and grassroots groups are filing lawsuits, organizing protests, exposing polluters on the Internet and lobbying officials to do something about pollution. Increasingly existing and future bureaucrats are being required to take courses on environmental issues. According to insiders a lot of time is devoted to environmental issues within the upper echelons of the Chinese government.

Many Chinese are offended by the grim, hopeless tone in which articles on Chinese pollution are written in the West, and insist the Chinese are doing their best and they are doing a lot to improve the situation.

Around Beijing, the government has 1) built to 1,000-foot-high towers to measure pollutants and wind speed at different altitudes, 2) shot lasers at reflectors on distant buildings to determine what was in the air, and 3) gotten data from U.S. satellites to see how ground-based observations match up with what is seen from space.

See environmental Movement Article

Reducing Dioxin in China

In November 2010 AFP reported: “China has said it aims to cut the intensity of dioxin emissions in key industries by 10 percent by 2015, as part of efforts by the world's top polluter to tackle ever-worsening air quality. The Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a statement that 17 key industries must install filters on all emission-producing equipment by June 2011.However, the 10 percent target is not an outright cut in dioxin emissions, but instead a reduction in intensity---language that China has previously used to refer to the ratio of emissions to a unit of gross domestic product. [Source: AFP, November 9, 2010]

"By 2015, the country should have in place a sound, long-term mechanism for monitoring and preventing dioxin pollution," said the notice. "The intensity of dioxin emissions in key industries should be cut by 10 percent to offset the increase in emissions.” China's national standard for dioxin emissions allows one nanogram per cubic meter---10 times the amount legally allowed in the European Union and the United States, the official China Daily newspaper reported.” [Ibid]

“Dioxin, a by-product of garbage burning and industrial activities, can cause a range of illnesses in humans including cancer and miscarriages. The trial dioxin emission controls will first be implemented in the northern cities of Beijing and Tianjin, Hebei province, the eastern Yangtze River Delta and the southern Pearl River Delta, the ministry said.” [Ibid]

“Waste incineration facilities will be required to release annual environmental impact reports to the public, and update online statistics on their release of oxysulfide, nitrogen oxides and hydrogen chloride in real time, with annual tests for accuracy, the notice said. Local environmental protection departments were ordered to inspect waste incineration facilities every two months.” [Ibid]

Harming the Environment to Help the Environment in China

Even companies that are supposedly helping the environment are notorious polluters. The Luoyamg Zhonggui High-Technology, for example, which operates on the Yellow River in Henan Province, is a major producer polysilicon, a material widely used in solar panels around the world and a major supplier for Suntech, a company founded by one of China’s richest men. The byproduct of polysilicon production is silicon tetrachloride, a highly toxic substance that is loaded on to dump trucks and dumped in corn fields in villages near the factory.

Polysilicon is an essential component for solar technology but is tricky to produce. It requires large amounts of energy to make, the smallest amounts of impurities can ruin a batch and for every ton of polysilicon that is produced four tons of silicon tetrachloride is created.

In the last few years increased demand for polysilicon has caused the price of the material to jump from $20 a kilogram to $300 kilogram. As the price has risen a number of Chinese companies “supported with venture capital and low-interest loans from the government---have sprung up to meet the demand. The factories require sophisticated technology to make the polysilicon and are supposed to recycle the water they use. The Chinese are racing full bore ahead making polysilicon factories even though they haven’t worked out the trickier elements of making the stuff and disposing of the waste materials.

More than 20 new polysilicon factories have opened or are being built. Their capacity is 80,000 to 100,000 tons---more than double the 40,000 tons produced in the entire world today. The problem with this is that these factories will also produce tons of silicon tetrachloride and there are few regulations or punishments to keep it from being irresponsibly dumped by the factories. Tests of fields where the silicon tetrachloride has been dumped show high levels of chlorine and hydrochloric acid which poison the soil and prevent crops from growing.

Image Sources: 1) Ohio State University; 2) Gary Baasch; 3) Environmental News; 4) Johomaps; 5) Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; 6) Guardian, Environmental News; 7) Bucklin archives http://www.bucklinchinaarchive.com/ ; 8) Agroecology; 9) Kyodo, Environmental News ; 10)

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 June 2015

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