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River like blood in Roxian, Guangxi
By 1989, 436 of China's 532 rivers were polluted. In 1994, the World Health Organization reported that China's cities contain more polluted water than those of any other country in the world. In the late 2000s, about one third of the industrial waste water and more than 90 percent of household sewage in China was released into rivers and lakes without being treated. At that time nearly 80 percent of China's cities (278 of them) had no sewage treatment facilities and few had plans to build any. Underground water supplies in 90 percent of the cites in China are contaminated. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Almost all of China rivers are considered polluted to some degree, and half of the population lacks access to clean water. Every day hundreds of millions of Chinese drink contaminated water. Ninety percent of urban water bodies are severely polluted. Acid rain falls on 30 percent of the country. Water shortages and water pollution in China are such a problem that the World Bank warns of “catastrophic consequences for future generations.” Half of China’s population lacks safe drinking water. Nearly two thirds of China’s rural population — more than 500 million people — use water contaminated by human and industrial waste.[Source: Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2009, Gale, 2008]

In Yale University's 2012 Environmental Performance Index, China is one of the worst performers (ranked 116 out of 132 countries) with respect to its performance on changes in water quantity due to consumption, including industrial, agricultural, and household uses. Jonathan Kaiman wrote in The Guardian, “The head of China's ministry of water resources said in 2012 that up to 40 percent of the country's rivers are "seriously polluted", and an official report from the summer of 2012 found that up to 200 million rural Chinese have no access to clean drinking water. China's lakes are often affected by pollution-induced algae blooms, causing the surface of the water to turn a bright iridescent green. Yet even greater threats may lurk underground. A recent government study found that groundwater in 90 percent of China's cities is contaminated, most of it severely. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, February 21, 2013]

In summer of 2011, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection said 280 million Chinese people drink unsafe water and 43 percent of state-monitored rivers and lakes are so polluted, they're unsuitable for human contact. By one estimate one sixth of China’s population is threatened by seriously polluted water. Water pollution is especially bad along the coastal manufacturing belt.One study found that eight of 10 Chinese coastal cities discharge excessive amounts of sewage and pollutants into the sea, often near coastal resorts and sea farming areas. Despite the closure of thousands of paper mills, breweries, chemical factories and other potential sources of contamination, the water quality along a third of the waterway falls far below even the modest standards that the government requires. Most of China’s rural areas have no system in place to treat waste water.

Water pollution and shortages are a more serious problem in northern China than southern China. The percentage of water considered unfit for human consumption is 45 percent in northern China, compared to 10 percent in southern China. Some 80 percent of the rivers in the northern province of Shanxi have been rated “unfit for human contact.” A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center before the 2008 Olympics found that 68 percent of the Chinese interviewed said they were concerned about water pollution.

Websites and Sources: China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environmental Protection (MEP) english.mee.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 ; ; China Environmental News Blog (last post 2011) china-environmental-news.blogspot.com ;Global Environmental Institute (a Chinese non-profit NGO) geichina.org ; Greenpeace East Asia greenpeace.org/china/en ; China Digital Times Collection of Articles chinadigitaltimes.net ; International Fund for China’s Environment ifce.org ; 2010 Article on Water Pollution and Farmers circleofblue.org ; Water Pollution Photos stephenvoss.com

Effects of Water Pollution in China

Water consumed by people in China contains dangerous levels of arsenic, fluorine and sulfates. An estimated 980 million of China’s 1.4 billion people drink water every day that is partly polluted. More than 600 million Chinese drink water contaminated with human or animal wastes and 20 million people drink well water contaminated with high levels of radiation. A large number of arsenic-tainted water have been discovered. China’s high rates of liver, stomach and esophageal cancer have been linked to water pollution.

Waters that used to team with fish and welcome swimmers now have film and foam at the top and give off bad smells. Canals are often covered layers of floating trash, with the deposits particularly thick on the banks. Most of it is plastic containers in a variety of sun-bleached colors. Deformities in fish such as one or no eyes and misshapen skeletons and a decreasing numbers of rare wild Chinese sturgeon in the Yangtze has been blamed on a paint chemical widely used in Chinese industry.

China is the largest polluter of the Pacific Ocean. Offshore dead zones — oxygen-starved areas in the sea that are virtually devoid off life — are not only found in shallow water but also in deep water. They are mainly created by agricultural run-off — namely fertilizer — and reach their peak in the summer. In the spring freshwater creates a barrier layer, cutting off the salt water below from the oxygen in the air. Warm water and fertilizers cause algae blooms. Dead algae sinks to the bottom and is decomposed by bacteria, depleting oxygen in deep water.

Water pollution — caused primarily by industrial waste, chemical fertilizers and raw sewage — accounts for half of the $69 billion that the Chinese economy loses to pollution every year. About 11.7 million pounds of organic pollutants are emitted into Chinese waters very day, compared to 5.5 in the United States, 3.4 in Japan, 2.3 in Germany, 3.2 in India, and 0.6 in South Africa.

Heath Problems Caused by Water Pollution in China

Water consumed by people in China contains dangerous levels of arsenic, fluorine and sulfates. An estimated 980 million of China’s 1.4 billion people drink water every day that is partly polluted. More than 20 million people drink well water contaminated with high levels of radiation. A large number of arsenic-tainted water have been discovered. China’s high rates of liver, stomach and esophageal cancer have been linked to water pollution.

In the 2000s, it was estimated that nearly two thirds of China’s rural population — more than 500 million people — use water contaminated by human and industrial waste. Accordingly it is not all that surprising that gastrointestinal cancer is now the number one killer in the countryside, Sheng Keyi wrote in the New York Times: China’s cancer mortality rate has soared, climbing 80 percent in the last 30 years. About 3.5 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year, 2.5 million of whom die. Rural residents are more likely than urban residents to die of stomach and intestinal cancers, presumably because of polluted water. State media reported on one government inquiry that found 110 million people across the country reside less than a mile from a hazardous industrial site. [Source: Sheng Keyi, New York Times, April 4, 2014]

More than 130 residents of two villages in Guangxi Province in southern China were poisoned by arsenic-contaminated water. Arsenic showed up in their urine. The source is believed to be waste from a nearby metallurgy factory. In August 2009, a thousand villagers gathered outside a government office in Zhentouu township in Hunan Province to protests a the presence of the Xiange Chemical factory, which villagers say has polluted water used to irrigate rice and vegetables and caused at least two deaths in the area.

Sources and Causes of Water Pollution in China

Major polluters include chemical factories, drug manufactures, fertilizer makers, tanneries, paper mills. In October 2009, Greenpeace identified five industrial facilities in southern China’s Pearl River delta that were dumping poisonous metals and chemicals’such as beryllium, manganese, nonylphenol and tetrabromobisphenol — into water used by local residents for drinking. The group found the toxins in pipes that led from the facilities.

A study by China’s Environmental Protection Agency in February 2010 said that water pollution levels were double what the government predicted them to be mainly because agricultural waste was ignored. China’s first pollution census in 2010 revealed farm fertilizer was a bigger source of water contamination than factory effluent.

In February 2008 the Fuan textile factory, a multimillion dollar operation in Guangdong Province that produces enormous quantities of T-shirts and other clothes for export, was shut down for dumping waste from dyes into the Maozhou River and turning the water red. It turned out the factory produced 47,000 tons of waste a day and could only process 20,000 tons with the rest being dumped into the river. It latter quietly reopened in a new location.

“China Urban Water Blueprint” released in 2016 found that about half of the pollution in the rivers it studied was caused by improper land development and soil degradation, especially fertilisers, pesticides and livestock excrement discharged into the water. The problems stemmed from China’s four-decade-old model of economic development that “ignored environmental protection and traded the environment for growth”. Local officials often overlooked environmental issues in the pursuit of high economic growth, which was a key factor in their promotions, it said. As a result, forests and wetlands were lost in the rush to sell land to property developers to fill local government coffers.[Source: Nectar Gan, South China Morning Post, April 21, 2016]

“Land development in catchment areas had triggered sediment and nutrient contamination of water supplies for more than 80 million people, the report said. This kind of pollution was particularly high in watersheds in Chengdu, Harbin, Kunming, Ningbo, Qingdao and Xuzhou. Hong Kong’s water catchments also had high levels of sediment pollution but medium levels of nutrient pollution; while Beijing had low levels of both types of contaminant, the report said. The land around one-third of the 100 catchments examined by the environmental group had shrunk by more than half, losing ground to agriculture and urban construction.

Polluted Chinese Rivers

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China has some of the world's worst water pollution. All of China's lakes and rivers are polluted to some degree. According to a Chinese government report, 70 percent of rivers, lakes and waterways are seriously polluted, many so seriously they have no fish, and 78 percent of the water from China's rivers is not fit for human consumption. In a middle class development near Nanjing call Straford a polluted river has buried underground in giant pipe while a new ornamental river, rally a lake, has been built above it.

According to one government survey, 436 of China’s 532 rivers are polluted, with more than half of them too polluted to serve as sources of drinking water, and 13 of 15 sectors of China's seven largest rivers are seriously polluted. The most polluted rivers are in the east and south around the major population centers with the pollution getting worse the further downstream one goes. In some cases each city along a river dumps pollutants outside their city limits, creating increasingly more pollution for the cities down stream. Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun said, “What’s not receiving attention is the destruction of the river ecosystem, which I think will have long-tern effects on our water resources.”

“China Urban Water Blueprint” released by the Nature Conservancy in April 2016, examined the water quality of 135 watersheds in the cities, including Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Wuhan, and found that roughly three-quarters of the water sources tapped by China’s 30 biggest cities have major pollution, affecting tens of millions of people.“Overall, 73 per cent of the catchments had medium to high levels of pollution. [Source: Nectar Gan, South China Morning Post, April 21, 2016]

China's three great rivers — the Yangtze, Pearl and Yellow River — are so filthy that it is dangerous to swim or eat fish caught in them. Parts of the Pearl River in Guangzhou are so thick, dark and soupy it looks like one could walk across it. Industrial toxins were blamed for turning the Yangtze an alarming shade of red in 2012. In recent years pollution has become a problem on the Yellow River. By one count 4,000 of China’s 20,000 petrochemical factories are on the Yellow River and a third of all fish species found in the Yellow River have become extinct because of dams, falling water levels, pollution and over fishing.

Pollution Found in Chinese Rivers

Many rivers are filled with garbage, heavy metals and factory chemicals. Suzhou Creek in Shanghai stinks of human waste and effluence from pig farms. There have been devastating fish kills caused by the release of chemicals into the Haozhongou River in Anhui province and Min Jiang River in Sichuan Province. The Liao River is also a mess. Gains made with new water treatment facilities have been canceled out by higher than ever levels of industrial pollution.

The Huai river in Anhui province is so polluted all the fish have died and people have to drink bottled water to avoid getting sick. Some places have water that is too toxic to touch and leaves behind scum when it is boiled. Here, crops have been destroyed by irrigation water from the river; fish farms have been wiped out; and fishermen have lost their livelihoods. The South-North Water Transfer Project — which will travel through the Huai basin — is likely to deliver water that is dangerously polluted. The Huai flows through densely populated farmland between the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. Bottlenecks and elevation changes make the river both prone to flooding and collecting pollutants. Half the checkpoints along the Huai River in central and eastern China revealed pollution levels of “Grade 5" or worse, with pollutants detected in ground water 300 meters below the river.

The Qingshui River, a tributary of the Huai whose names means “clear water,” has turned black with trails of yellow foam from pollution from small mines that have opened up to meet the demand for magnesium, molybdenum and vanadium used in the booming steel industry. River samples indicate unhealthy levels of magnesium and chromium. The vanadium refineries foul the water and produce smokes that deposits a yellowing powder on teh countryside.

In May 2007, 11 companies along the Songhua River, including local food companies, were ordered to shut down because of the heavily-polluted water they dumped into the river. A survey found that 80 percent exceeded pollution discharge limits. One company turned off pollution control devices and dumped sewage directly into the river. In March 2008 contamination of the Dongjing River with ammonia, nitrogen and metal-cleaning chemicals turned the water red and foamy and forced authorities to cut water supplies for at least 200,000 people in Hubei Province in central China.

Decline of a Once Beautiful River in China

On a river in her hometown in Hunan Province, the novelist Sheng Keyi wrote in the New York Times: “ The once sweet and sparkling water of the Lanxi frequently appears in my work.“People used to bathe in the river, wash their clothes beside it, and cook with water from it. People would celebrate the dragon-boat festival and the lantern festival on its banks. The generations who’ve lived by the Lanxi have all experienced their own heartaches and moments of happiness, yet in the past, no matter how poor our village was, people were healthy and the river was pristine. [Source: Sheng Keyi, New York Times, April 4, 2014]

“In my childhood, when summer arrived, lotus leaves dotted the village’s many ponds, and the delicate fragrance of lotus flowers saturated the air. The songs of cicadas rose and fell on the summer breeze. Life was tranquil. Water in the ponds and river was so clear that we could see fish darting about and shrimp scampering on the bottom. We children scooped water from the ponds to quench our thirst. Lotus leaf hats protected us from the sun. On our way home from school, we picked lotus plants and water chestnuts and stuffed them into our schoolbags: These were our afternoon snacks.

“Now there is not a single lotus leaf left in our village. Most of the ponds have been filled in to build houses or given over to farmland. Buildings sprout up next to malodorous ditches; trash is scattered everywhere. The remaining ponds have shrunk to puddles of black water that attract swarms of flies. Swine fever broke out in the village in 2010, killing several thousand pigs. For a time, the Lanxi was covered with sun-bleached pig carcasses.

“The Lanxi was dammed up years ago. All along this section, factories discharge tons of untreated industrial waste into the water every day. Animal waste from hundreds of livestock and fish farms is also discarded in the river. It is too much for the Lanxi to bear. After years of constant degradation, the river has lost its spirit. It has become a lifeless toxic expanse that most people try to avoid. Its water is no longer suitable for fishing, irrigation or swimming. One villager who took a dip in it emerged with itchy red pimples all over his body.

“As the river became unfit to drink, people began to dig wells. Most distressing to me is that test results show the ground water is also contaminated: Levels of ammonia, iron, manganese and zinc significantly exceed levels safe for drinking. Even so, people have been consuming the water for years: They have had no choice. A few well-off families began buying bottled water, which is produced mainly for city dwellers. This sounds like a sick joke. Most of the village’s young people have left for the city to make a living. For them, the fate of the Lanxi is no longer a pressing concern. The elderly residents who remain are too weak to make their voices heard. The future of the handful of younger people who have yet to leave is under threat.

Polluted Groundwater in China

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Dead fish in Hangzhou pond
About 40 percent of China's agricultural land is irrigated with underground water, of which 90 percent is polluted, according to Liu Xin, a food and health expert and a member of an advisory body to parliament, told the Southern Metropolitan Daily.

In February 2013, Xu Chi wrote in the Shanghai Daily, “Shallow underground water in China has been severely polluted and the situation is deteriorating rapidly, with water quality data in 2011 showing that 55 percent of underground supplies in 200 cities was of bad or extremely bad quality, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources. A review of underground water carried out by the ministry from 2000 to 2002 showed that nearly 60 percent of shallow underground water was undrinkable, the Beijing News reported yesterday. Some reports in the Chinese media said water pollution was so severe in some regions that it caused cancer in villagers and even led to cows and sheep which drank it to become sterile. [Source: Xu Chi, Shanghai Daily, February 25, 2013]

A government study in 2013 found that groundwater in 90 percent of China's cities is contaminated, most of it severely. Chemical companies in Weifang, a city of 8 million in coastal Shandong province, were accused of using high-pressure injection wells to discharge waste sewage more than 1,000 meters underground for years, seriously polluting underground water and posing a cancer threat.Jonathan Kaiman wrote in The Guardian, "Weifang's internet users have accused local paper mills and chemical plants of directly pumping industrial waste into the city's water supply 1,000 meters underground, causing cancer rates in the area to skyrocket. "I was just angry after receiving information from Web users saying that the groundwater in Shandong had been polluted and I forwarded it online," Deng Fei, a reporter whose microblog posts sparked the allegations, told the state-run Global Times. "But it came as a surprise to me that after I sent out these posts, many people from different places in northern and eastern China all complained that their hometowns have been similarly polluted." Weifang officials have offered a reward of about £10,000 to anyone who can provide evidence of illegal wastewater dumping. According to a Weifang Communist party committee spokesperson, local authorities have investigated 715 companies and have yet to find any evidence of wrongdoing. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, February 21, 2013]

In September 2013, Xinhua reported on a village in Henan where the groundwater has been badly polluted. The news agency said that locals claimed the deaths of 48 villagers from cancer are linked to the pollution. Research carried out by Yang Gonghuan, a professor of public health at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences has also linked high rates of cancer to polluted river water in Henan, Anhui and Shangdong provinces. [Source: Jennifer Duggan, The Guardian, October 23, 2013]

Cancer Villages on Polluted Waterways in China

According to the World Bank, 60,000 people die each year from diarrhea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases directly caused by water-borne pollution. A study by the WHO came with a much higher figure.

Cancer village is a term used to describe villages or towns where cancer rates have risen dramatically because of pollution. There are said to be around 100 cancer villages along the Huai River and its tributaries in Henan Province, especially on the Shaying River. Death rates on Huai River are 30 percent higher than the national average. In 1995, the government declared that water from a Huai tributary was undrinkable and the water supply for 1 million people was cut off. The military had to truck in water for a month until 1,111 paper mills and 413 other industrial plants on the river were shut down.

In the village of Huangmengying — where a once-clear stream is now greenish black from factory wastes — cancer accounted for 11 of the 17 deaths in 2003. Both the river and well water in the village — the main source of drinking water — have an acrid smell and taste produced by pollutants dumped upstream by tanneries, paper mills, a huge MSG plant, and other factories. Cancer had been rare when the stream was clear.

Tuanjieku is town six kilometers northwest of Xian that still uses an ancient system of moats to irrigate its crops. The moats unfortunately don’t drain so well and are now badly contaminated by household discharges and industrial waste. Visitors to the town are often overwhelmed by the rotten egg smell and feel faint after five minutes of breathing in the air. Vegetables produced in the fields are discolored and sometimes black. Residents suffer from abnormally high cancer rates. One third of peasants in the village Badbui are mentally ill or seriously ill. Women report high numbers of miscarriages and many people die in middle age. The culprit is believed to be drinking water drawn from the Yellow River downstream from a fertilizer plant.

The waters around Taizhou in Zhejiang, the home of Hisun Pharmaceutical, one of China’s largest drug makers, are so contaminated with sludge and chemicals that fishermen complain their hands and legs become ulcerated, and in extreme cases need amputation. Studies have show that people who live around the city have high cancer and birth defect rates.

Sheng Keyi wrote in the New York Times: Over the past few years, trips back to my home village, Huaihua Di, on the Lanxi River in Hunan Province, have been clouded by news of deaths — deaths of people I knew well. Some were still young, only in their 30s or 40s. When I returned to the village early 2013, two people had just died, and a few others were dying.“My father conducted an informal survey in 2013 of deaths in our village, which has about 1,000 people, to learn why they died and the ages of the deceased. After visiting every household over the course of two weeks, he and two village elders came up with these numbers: Over 10 years, there were 86 cases of cancer. Of these, 65 resulted in death; the rest are terminally ill. Most of their cancers are of the digestive system. In addition, there were 261 cases of snail fever, a parasitic disease, that led to two deaths. [Source: Sheng Keyi, New York Times, April 4, 2014]

“The Lanxi is lined with factories, from mineral processing plants to cement and chemical manufacturers. For years, industrial and agricultural waste has been dumped into the water untreated. I have learned that the grim situation along our river is far from uncommon in China. I posted a message about the cancer problem in Huaihua Di on Weibo, China’s popular microblogging platform, hoping to alert the authorities. The message went viral. Journalists went to my village to investigate and confirmed my findings. The government also sent medical professionals to investigate. Some villagers opposed the publicity, fearing their children would not be able to find spouses. At the same time, villagers who had lost loved ones pleaded with the journalists, hoping the government would do something. The villagers are still waiting for the situation to change — or improve at all.

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Yangtze pollution

Polluted Lakes, Canals and Coastal Areas in China

China's coastal waters are suffering "acute" pollution, with the size of the worst affected areas soaring by more than 50 percent in 2012, a Chinese government body said. The state oceanic administration (SOA) said 68,000 square kilometers (26,300 square miles) of sea had the worst official pollution rating in 2012, up 24,000 square kilometers on 2011. Studies have showed that the quality of coastal waters are deteriorating quickly as a result of land-based pollution. One study found that 8.3 billion tons of sewage was released in Guangdong Province’s coastal waters in 2006, 60 percent more than five years earlier. Altogether 12.6 million tons of polluted “material was dumped in waters off the southern province. [Source: Economic Times, March 21, 2013]

Some lakes are in equally bad shape. China’s great lakes — the Tai, Chao and Dianchi — have water that is rated Grade V, the most degraded level. It is unfit for drinking or for agricultural or industrial use. Describing China's fifth-biggest lake a Wall Street Journal reporter wrote: "The slow, hot days of summer are here, and sun-fed algae is starting to clot the milky surface of Chao Lake. Soon a living scum will carpet a patch the size of New York City. It will quickly blacken and rot...The smell is so terrible you can not describe it.”

The water in Changzhou’s canals used to be clean enough to drink from but now is polluted with chemicals from the factories. The fish are mostly dead and water is black and gives a foul odor. Afraid to drink the water, the residents of Changzhou began digging wells. Groundwater supplies have been sucked out so that ground levels has shrunk two feet in many places. Farmers have stopped irrigated their paddies because the water is laced heavy metals. To solve its water problems, the city has hired the French company Veolia to clean up and manage its water

Sections of the Grand Canal that have water deep enough to accommodate boats are often filled with trash sewage and oil slicks. Chemical waste and fertilizer and pesticide run-off empties into the canal. The water is mostly brownish green. People who drink it often get diarrhea and break out in rashes.

Apple Accused of Making a River Runs Black

In many cases factories fouling critical water sources are making goods consumed by people in the U.S. and Europe. Problems created by China’s water pollution are not just confined to China either. Water pollution and garbage produced in China floats down its rivers to the sea and is carried by prevailing winds and currents to Japan and South Korea.

In March 2012, Peter Smith wrote in The Times, Beyond the brick cottages of Tongxin runs Lou Xia Bang, once the soul of the farming village and a river where, until the digital revolution, children swam and mothers washed rice. Today it flows black: a chemical mess heavy with the stench of China’s high-tech industry — the hidden companion of the world’s most famous electronics brands and a reason the world gets its gadgets on the cheap. [Source: Peter Smith, The Times, March 9, 2012]

The article then goes on to describe how the town of Tongxin was being affected by chemical waste from local factories that, as well as turning the river black, has caused a “phenomenal” increase in cancer rates in Tongxin (according to research by five Chinese non-governmental organisations). The factories have grown up in the last few years and make circuit boards, touch screens and the casings of smartphones, laptops and tablet computers. As usual in these cases, Apple was mentioned — although the evidence appears to be a little sketchy as to whether these factories are actually players in the Apple supply chain. [Source: Spendmatter UK/Europe blog]

Smith wrote in the Times: “Workers at the Kaedar factory, five metres from a kindergarten where children have complained of dizziness and nausea, have secretly confirmed that products had left the factory bearing the Apple trademark.”

Red Tides, Salt Tides and Algae Bloom in China

Red tide is an algal bloom in coastal areas. Algae become so numerous they discolor the saltwaters. The algal bloom may also deplete oxygen in the waters and may release toxins that may cause illness in humans and other animals. The Chinese government estimates that $240 million worth of damage and economic loses was caused by 45 major red tides between 1997 and 1999. Describing a red tide near the town of Aotoum that left the seas blanketed with dead fish and fishermen badly in debt, a fisherman told the Los Angeles Times, "The sea turned dark, like tea. If you talk to the fishermen around here, they'll all break into tears."

Red tides have increased in their numbers and severity in coastal areas of China, particularly in Bohai Bay off eastern China, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Large red tides have occurred around the Zhoushan Islands near Shanghai. In May and June 2004, two huge red tides, covering a total area size of 1.3 million soccer fields, developed in Bohai Bay. One occurred near the mouth of the Yellow River and affected an area of 1,850 square kilometers. Another struck near the port city of Tianjin and covered nearly 3,200 square kilometers. It was blamed on the dumping of large amounts of waste water and sewage into the bay and rivers leading into the bay. In June 2007, coastal waters off the booming industrial town of Shenzhen were hit by one the biggest ever red tides. It produced a 50 square kilometer slick and was caused by pollution and persisted because of a lack of rain.

Algae blooms, or eutrophication, in lakes are caused by too much nutrients in the water. They turn lakes green and suffocate fish by depleting the oxygen. They are often caused by human and animal waste and run off of chemical fertilizers. Similar conditions create red tides in the sea. In some places the Chinese have tried to minimize the damage caused by algae blooms by pumping oxygen into the water and containing the blooms by adding clay which acts as a magnet for algae. A lack funds keeps China from tackling the problem using more conventional means. There were large algae blooms in freshwater lakes throughout China in 2007. Some were blamed on pollution. Others were blamed on drought. In Jiangsu Province the water level in one lake dropped to its lowest level in 50 years and became inundated with blue-green algae that produced smelly, undrinkable water.

A severe drought in 2006, caused large amounts of seawater to flow upstream on the Xinjiang River in southern China. In Macau salinity levels in the river jumped to almost three time above the World Health Organization standards. To combat the problem water was diverted into it from the Beijiang River in Guangdong.

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Algae bloom in a Yunnan lake

Huge Algae Bloom Strikes Qingdao

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “In what has become an annual summer scourge, the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao has been hit by a near-record algae bloom that has left its popular beaches fouled with a green, stringy muck. The State Oceanic Administration said an area larger than the state of Connecticut had been affected by the mat of “sea lettuce,” as it is known in Chinese, which is generally harmless to humans but chokes off marine life and invariably chases away tourists as it begins to rot. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, July 5, 2013 |~|]

“Some beachgoers appeared to be amused by the outbreak, at least according to the Chinese media, which in recent days has featured startling images of swimmers lounging on bright green beds of algae, tossing it around with glee or piling it atop of one another as if it were sand. Local officials, however, are less enthused. They declared a “large-scale algae disaster,” dispatching hundreds of boats and bulldozers to clean up the waters off Qingdao. With a few days workers and volunteers had cleared about 19,800 tons of the algae, according to the Qingdao government. While valued for its nutrition — or as an ingredient in fertilizers and biomass energy production — algae in large quantities can prove dangerous as it decomposes, producing toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. It also smells like rotten eggs. |~|

“The green tide, spread over 7,500 square miles is thought to be twice the size of an outbreak in 2008 that threatened sailing events during the Beijing Olympics, which took place around Qingdao. At the time, officials deployed boats, helicopters and 10,000 workers to keep the waters clear for the competition. The cleanup costs were later estimated at more than $30 million. Abalone, clam and sea cucumber farms suffered more than $100 million in damage, according to a 2011 study by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences. An outbreak in 2009 was even bigger, affecting a stretch of the Yellow Sea nearly as large as West Virginia. |~|

“Although biologists are at a loss to explain the most recent algae bloom, scientists suspect it is connected to pollution and increased seaweed farming in the province just south of Shandong. While similar green tides have been reported around the world, the annual bloom in the Yellow Sea is considered the largest, growing to an estimated million tons of biomass each year. The green tides were first reported in Qingdao in 2007. A key factor is the high supply of nutrients from agricultural runoff and wastewater. But those pollutants have been in the Yellow Sea for decades, leading scientists to look for new triggers. A group of researchers believe that the algae that washes up around Qingdao originates farther south in seaweed farms along the coast of Jiangsu Province. The farms grow porphyra, known as nori in Japanese cuisine, on large rafts in coastal waters. The rafts attract a kind of algae called ulva prolifera, and when the farmers clean them off each spring they spread the fast-growing algae out into the Yellow Sea, where it finds nutrients and warm temperatures ideal for blooming. |~|

“It feeds off those nutrients and grows bigger and bigger and eventually you can see it from satellites,” said John Keesing, a scientist at the CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research in Australia who is studying the green tide with Chinese researchers. “The currents gently move the algae in a northeastern direction out into the center of the Yellow Sea. You get a huge amount, and eventually it starts to wash on shore.” While farmers have long grown seaweed along the Jiangsu coast for consumption, the rafts expanded much farther offshore starting in 2006, which may have contributed to the recent blooms, according to an article published last May by Mr. Keesing and his colleagues. The answer to curtailing the blooms may lie in disposing of the algae that clogs the nori rafts on land. “We haven’t suggested people stop growing porphyra, but proper husbandry methods to prevent much of the waste algae from going into sea, that’s probably the only preventive measure that could be deployed,” he said.

Pollution and Algae Blooms in Lake Tai

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Algae bloom in Lake Tai
Lake Tai, not so far from Shanghai, between Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, is one of the largest freshwater lakes in China — and dirtiest. It is often choked with industrial waste from factories producing paper, film and dyes, urban sewage and agricultural run-off. It sometimes is covered with green algae as a result of nitrogen and phosphate pollution. Locals complain of polluted irrigation water that causes their skin to peal, dyes that turn the water red and fumes that sting their eyes. Fishing has been banned since 2003 because of pollution.

Since the 1950s, Lake Tai has been under assault. Dams built for flood control and irrigation have prevented Lake Tai’s from flushing out pesticides and fertilizers that flow into it. Particularly damaging are phosphates which suck out life-sustaining oxygen. Starting in the 1980s a number of chemical factories were built on its shores. As of the late 1990s there were 2,800 chemical factories around the lake, some of which released their waste directly into the lake in the middle of the night to avoid detection.

In the summer of 2007, large algae blooms covered parts of Lake Tai and Lake Chao, China’s third and fifth largest freshwater lakes, making the water undrinkable and producing a terrible stench.Two million of residents of Wuxi, who normally rely on water from the Lake Tai for drinking water, couldn't bathe or wash dishes and hoarded bottled water that rose in price from $1 a bottle to $6 a bottle. Some turned on their taps only to have sludge emerge. The bloom on Lake Tai lasted for six days until it was flushed out by rain and water diverted from the Yangtze River. The bloom on Lake Chao did not threaten water supplies.

Reporting from Zhoutie, near Lake Tai, William Wan wrote in Washington Post, “You smell the lake before you see it, an overwhelming stench like rotten eggs mixed with manure. The visuals are just as bad, the shore caked with toxic blue-green algae. Farther out, where the algae is more diluted but equally fueled by pollution, it swirls with the currents, a vast network of green tendrils across the surface of Tai Lake.” Such pollution problems are now widespread in China after three decades of unbridled economic growth. But what's surprising about Tai Lake is the money and attention that's been spent on the problem and how little either has accomplished. Some of the country's highest-ranking leaders, including Premier Wen Jiabao, have declared it a national priority. Millions of dollars have been poured into the cleanup. And yet, the lake is still a mess. The water remains undrinkable, the fish nearly gone, the fetid smell lingering over villages.” [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, October 29, 2010]

“At Tai Lake, part of the problem is that the same industrial factories poisoning the water also transformed the region into an economic powerhouse. Shutting them down, local leaders say, would destroy the economy overnight. In fact, many of the factories shut down during the 2007 scandal have since reopened under different names, environmentalists say.” Tai Lake is the embodiment of China's losing fight against pollution. This summer, the government said that, despite stricter rules, pollution is rising again across the country in key categories such as emissions of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain. Just months before, the government had revealed that water pollution was more than twice as severe as previous official figures had shown.”

The algae bloom on Lake Tai was caused by toxic cyanobacteria, commonly called pond scum. It turned much of the lake florescent green and produced a terrible stench that could be smelled miles away from the lake. The Lake Tai bloom became a symbol of China’s lack of environmental regulations. Afterwards a high-level meeting on the lake’s future was convened, with Beijing closing down hundreds of chemical factories and promising to spend $14.4 billion to clean up the lake.

Sand Mining Devastates China's Largest Freshwater Lake

Poyang Lake in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi is China’s largest freshwater lake. Two decades of activity by dredging ships have sucked massive amounts of sand from the bed and shores and dramatically altered the ability of the lake’s ecosystem to function. Reuters reported: “Decades of mass urbanisation in China have fuelled demand for sand to make glass, concrete and other materials used in construction. The most desirable sand for industry comes from rivers and lakes rather than deserts and oceans. Much of the sand used to build the country's megacities has come from Poyang. [Source: Manas Sharma and Simon Scarr, Reuters, July 19, 2021, 8:45 PM

“Poyang Lake is a main flood outlet for the Yangtze River, which overflows during summer and can cause extensive damage to crops and property. In winter, the lake’s water flows back out into the river. Sand mining in the main river and its tributaries and lakes is believed to be responsible for the abnormally low water levels during winters over the past two decades. It also has made it harder for authorities to control the summertime water flow. In March 2021, the government moved to restrict sand mining activities in some areas and arrested illegal miners, but it stopped short of an outright ban on sand mining. Low water levels mean farmers have less water for irrigation, while also shrinking habitats for birds and fish.

“President Xi Jinping once described Poyang Lake as a vital "kidney" filtering the country's water supply. Today, it looks very different from two decades ago. Already decimated by sand mining, the Poyang now faces a new environmental threat. Plans to build a 3-km (1.9-mile) sluice gate increase the threat to the ecosystem of the lake, which is a national nature reserve and home to endangered species like the Yangtze River, or finless, porpoise. Adding a sluice gate to regulate the water flow would disrupt the natural ebb and flow between Poyang and the Yangtze, potentially threatening mud flats that serve as feeding stops for migratory birds. Losing the natural water circulation could also hurt Poyang's ability to flush out nutrients, raising the risk that algae could build up and disrupt the food chain.

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 ; YouTube

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.

Last updated June 2022

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