Friday, December 23, 2016

Benjamin Haas - Shanghai water supply hit by 100-tonne wave of garbage // Smog refugees flee Chinese cities as 'airpocalypse' blights half a billion

Medical waste, broken bottles and household trash are some of the items found in more than 100 tonnes of garbage salvaged near a drinking water reservoir in Shanghai. The suspected culprits are two ships that have been dumping waste upstream in the Yangtze river. It has then flowed downstream to the reservoir on Shanghai’s Chongming island which is also home to 700,000 people. The reservoir at the mouth of the river is one of the four main sources of drinking water for the country’s largest city, according to local media.


China has struggled with air, soil and water pollution for years during its economic boom, with officials often protecting industry and silencing citizens that complain. China’s cities are often blanketed in toxic smog, while earlier this year more than 80% of water wells used by farms, factories and rural households was found to be unsafe for drinking because of pollution.

Officials dispatched more than 40 workers to clean up the mess, but the area around the reservoir will take about two weeks to clear, the Shanghai Daily reported. Shanghai’s water authority claims supplies are still safe to drink, but has stopped the flow coming in while it continues testing, the paper said. Videos circulating on social media showed beaches and wetlands covered in a rainbow of plastic bags. There’s enough trash to cover several football fields,” a local resident can be heard saying in one video. Catheter bags and used IV sacks are pulled from the water, and in some places only a sea of trash can be seen, completely obscuring the river water. “This is so sad, just humanity digging its own grave,” one commenter on Twitter-like Sina Weibo said.

Needles and medical tubes were found in the trash, which has been washing ashore since 5 November. Despite cleanup efforts, a new wave of garbage inundated the island again this week. Earlier this year more than 500 students developed nosebleeds, rashes and illnesses, some as severe as leukaemia, in what local media linked to illegal toxic dumping by chemical factories.

Although parents complained for months, local officials ignored their claims and disputed any connection despite levels of chlorobenzene, a highly toxic solvent that causes damage to the liver, kidney and nervous system, nearly 100,000 times above the safe limit. The country’s air pollution has been shown to contribute to more than 1 million deaths a year, linked to about a third of deaths in China’s major cities.