Are you at risk from China’s polluted soil? Check this map

First release of such detailed data is a boost for transparency and may help activists whose legal actions are often hobbled by a lack of figures

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 12:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 12:19am

A mainland environmental group has published China’s first soil pollution map to pinpoint pollution sources and gauge the public health and other safety risks that it says the government has yet to fully account for.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs said the map was compiled after collecting public information on 4,500 companies and 729 industrial parks, and identifying thirteen sectors that were potential soil pollution sources, including petrochemicals, fertilisers, pesticides, mining, metal smelting, battery production and pharmaceuticals.

Living with a toxic time bomb

Emissions from these sectors tend to contain highly toxic and even carcinogenic substances such as heavy metals, and improper treatment could lead to long-lasting remove soil and groundwater pollution that posed severe public health risks.

The map’s release comes less than two weeks after state broadcaster CCTV claimed that hundreds of students of an elite private school in Changzhou (常州), Jiangsu (江蘇) province fell ill after their new campus opened next to the former chemical plant sites.

Ma said that public awareness about contaminated soil was growing, but was not yet on the same scale as air pollution.

The government so far has only provided very sketchy information
Ma Jun, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs

“The location of factories and the types of chemicals they used or produced is critical information that must be managed, but the government so far has only provided very sketchy information,” said Ma.

The government released rather vague data on soil pollution in 2014, saying that about 16 per cent of the country’s soil was contaminated following an eight-year survey that cost about one billion yuan. Yet it refused to publish its details, first calling the findings a “state secret”then later saying they were not thorough enough.

Ma said the maps compiled by the IPE were generally in line the national soil pollution survey.

The Environmental ministry had pledged a more detailed survey in 2014, but in a report to China’s legislature last week, minister Chen Jining said once again that a nationwide soil pollution survey would roll out this year, without explaining the delay.

Land Ministry to map the extent of soil contamination by heavy metals

Ma said China’s authorities tended to be uncomfortable releasing pollution data before working out plans to address the problem, fearing it would lead to a “public panic”.

“But as threats of soil and groundwater pollution become more prominent, it’s about time they disclose such information to the public,” he said.

As threats of soil and groundwater pollution become more prominent, it’s about time they disclose such information to the public

Ma Rongzhen, a member of the legal team at Friends of Nature, said the lack of soil pollution data made it hard for activists to sue polluters.
Ma Jun, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs

On Friday, the group lodged public interest litigation against the three chemical companies responsible for the soil pollution in Changzhou, demanding they remove the hazard and pay for ecological damage.

Changzhou Intermediate People’s Court will have seven days to decide if it will hear the case. Local courts in China sometimes refuse to accept pollution lawsuits to protect local governments.

Hundreds of pupils at school near toxic site in east China fall ill, some with cancer, state TV reports

Ma said without publicly available pollution data , the Friends of Nature had to file an administrative application to demand that the Changzhou government disclose environmental data of the three companies. The group has yet to receive feedback.

“At the moment, there is no specific law to demand companies restore soil they have polluted. But the three companies have violated the environmental protection law by causing social damage,” Ma said.