Chromium pollution affecting China

By  Ding Yuanzhao @armstrongding

According to the report from Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MME), the People’s Republic of China, urgent responses are required to avoid Chromium (Cr) water pollution. Although many efforts are being made to reduce Cr pollution, they are by most estimations not enough. Cr pollution makes river biodiversity more vulnerable and also threatens human life in China.

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Water pollution (Cr) by chemical industry in China. Source: Bert van Dijk, Flickr 

Due to the aim of economic activity, China requires the development of the chemical industry. However, due to the absence of environmental law and order in the last 10 years, many chemical companies directly discharged polluted water (including a large amount of Cr) to waterways without any water treatment. The chromium we looked at  isknown as the toxic chemical, it is easily absorbed by humans and contact can irritate the skin and damage DNA. It is not easily expelled from the body and, at high dosages, can cause serious disease (e.g., gastric cancer, lung cancer). It represents a sustained, environmental threat to wildlife and humans.

In one famous case, the Chinese journalist Wang Fei reported that 5,000 tonnes of toxic Cr tailings (containing 1% to 2% of calcium chromate) were discharged by one local chemical factory near a Yunnan reservoir, contaminating water supplies and killing livestock. One villager in Xinglong Village, Zhang Jiarong, reported that countless head of livestock has died. Another local villager Wang Heyun said that 37 villagers have died of various forms of cancer in recent years.

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Cr in the waterways leading to serious dead fish (left) and human cancer (right) in Beijing. Image: meyarw|Creaders

The Cr problems were not only occurred in Xinglong Village; Cr pollution has become a nationwide problem  in China. The fisheries and livestock have been significantly affected by Cr pollution and wildlife has also suffered from the toxic water. As a result, biodiversity conservation has been significantly affected. Furthermore, in all regions of the country a link has been found between drinking the polluted water with high amount of Cr, and cancer incidence.

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Major rivers and counties with cancer villages in China. Image: Pinterest

Currently, to solve the contamination problems, the MME installed pumps and dug a channel to take the clean water to the polluted river. However, 100 years are needed for Cr in polluted water to lose its toxicity in the natural environment. Some further actions might be still required to accelerate the process of cleaning the water. In the future, the MME is planning to revise and enforce environmental laws. The MME is also planning to start a new Environmental Inspection Office (to inspect the related Cr discharge process) and Natural Ecosystem Protection Office (to estimate the pollution’s effect on the ecosystem). Similar to the economic transformation, China requires environmental transformation. Additionally, Cr pollution in China has received little international attention – few people globallyare aware of such serious water issues.

The Cr pollution problem requires international support and China requires international experts with environmental techniques. So, if you are experienced environmental scientists or engineers, you might be interested in China’s Thousand Talents Plan which could benefit your personal career and China’s environment.

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