Travellers unveil shocking truth about illegal waste water dumping

Bloggers visiting their hometowns during the holiday discover the shocking effect of illegal dumping on the health of villagers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 4:34am

Smartphone users and microbloggers returning home for the Lunar New Year break have helped reveal a startling picture of how widespread water pollution is causing cancers on the mainland. The campaign has prompted some state media to declare war on illegal dumping.

It all started with a microblog post exposing factories in Shandong that injected toxic waste water underground, and evolved into an online campaign to uncover pollution scandals as people returning home from cities for the holiday encountered unbearable levels of water contamination.

Deng Fei , a social activist who helped initiate the campaign, said some journalists and lawyers had mobilised to investigate clues offered by microbloggers, adding that several members of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference had expressed interest in looking into the problems.

The first post, published on Tuesday on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, said some chemical plants in Weifang - which were preparing for initial public offerings - had been secretly discharging untreated waste water deep underground, using high-pressure injection wells to avoid supervision.

It has been reposted by about 50,000 microbloggers.

The toxic sewage could seep into aquifers and contaminate groundwater systems. Once polluted, the water is difficult to clean because it is almost impossible to locate the pollutants, let alone remove or treat them.

First greeted with scepticism by many, who said such an approach was too hideous to be true, more weibo users confirmed the practice had been going on for almost a decade, especially in rural northern areas. Many shared photos and stories from their hometowns.

One weibo user said: "I can testify that in Guangrao county, Shandong , a paper plant has also been pumping stinky discharges into the ground."

Online postings said the practice was common in Shandong and Hebei , which is especially worrisome because residents in the north rely on groundwater for about 65 per cent of their water supplies.

More weibo users complained about rising cancer rates.

A blogger from Dezhou , Shandong, said his two cousins, both in their 40s, had cancer. "A chemical plant located south of our village has been using this method to dump waste water," he wrote. "More than 10 men in our village have died of cancer, all in middle age. The drinking water is covered with a layer of grease."

Deng said he had not expected so much feedback at first but now "the fire is already burning", with some state media, including the People's Daily, Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television calling for a battle against groundwater pollution, following a forceful editorial in The Beijing News on Wednesday.

The editorial said secretive pollution had been exacerbated by local governments, which loosened environmental regulations and shielded economically important "superstar" companies from punishment.

"The reason why groundwater pollution has long been ignored is that the vast majority of contamination cases occur in rural counties, where farmers lack the right to speak out," it said.

However, it is difficult for outsiders to detect such practices.

In January, it took inspectors more than a week to find those responsible for a massive cadmium spill in Guangxi , when a mining company pumped chemical waste directly into a well linked to underground caverns. More than 20 tonnes of toxic chemical spilled into the Longjiang, disrupting water supplies to downstream cities.