Soil pollution has thus far received fairly limited public attention in China. “You can see with your own eyes when the air is smoggy, or see when the color of a river is wrong, but for soil pollution you need special equipment to check the levels of various elements,” says Chen Nengchang, a scientist at the Guangdong Institute of Eco-environmental and Soil Sciences. Yet, he cautions, the rampant overuse of fertilizer and pesticides in cropland and the seeping of heavy metals—such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium—from factories, smelters, and mines into the ground threaten the safety of China’s food supply.For all the folks bitching about the EPA, keep this in mind. We've been there and done that.
Chen estimates that at least 15 of China’s 33 provinces and administrative zones have areas of severely contaminated soil. The problem is worst near the southeastern industrial zones, including parts of Guangdong province. Crops grown in or near polluted soils can absorb some chemicals and trace heavy metals. “If we eat contaminated foods, it can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, and other organs. In children, there can be developmental problems,” Chen says. “The health problems are caused by chronic exposure, not a sudden acute sickness.”
Scientists at his institute and others in China are trying to learn from Japan’s experience of restoring soils that were heavily polluted during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. In the 1960s, Japan’s Jinzu River basin gained infamy for the high occurrence of an unusual disease that softened the bones. The disease was later linked to the consumption of rice polluted with cadmium from local mining operations.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Another Chinese Environmental Disaster