Sunday, April 20, 2014

Soil Pollution Survey Finally Announced

Chinese officialdom is finally acknowledging soil contamination problems. China's first soil contamination survey was released this week, revealing that 16 percent of all land monitored over eight years was polluted above accepted tolerances. The survey found that 19 percent of farmland of polluted.

Results of China's 2005-13 soil contamination survey:
Proportion of soil survey points with contamination above maximum tolerance16.1%
Of which:
  Above tolerance limit but less than double11.2%
  Double-to-triple the tolerance2.3%
  Three-to-four times the tolerance1.5%
  Five times the tolerance1.1%
Source: Communique on soil contamination survey.

The new-found environmental consciousness is apparently spurred by widespread concern about "cadmium rice" contamination that was publicized in 2013. In December, agricultural officials began to talk about pollution and environmental problems that make China's current level of production unsustainable. Just last year, the soil survey was being kept secret and neither academics nor journalists were allowed to report on it.

The soil survey's purpose was to assess the effect on soil contamination on agricultural products and human health. It was conducted from 2005 to 2013 by the Ministries of Environmental Protection and Land Resources by monitoring pollutants in soils at sample points covering the entire mainland. Sample points purportedly covered all cultivated land area, "some" grassland, barren land, and built-up land, in all 6.3 million square kilometers.

The official news release described the results as "not optimistic" (不容乐观), with some regions having serious contamination, a troubling degree of cropland contamination, and prominent impacts of emissions from industry and mining on soil quality.

The survey found 16 percent of all land exceeded tolerated levels of 8 heavy metals and three organic pollutants. Of those exceeding the limit, 11% were less than double the limit, 2.3% were two-to-three times over the limit, 1.5% was three-to-four times over, and 1.1% was five times over the limit.

Cultivated land had the most extensive pollution--19.2% was over the tolerance--while 10% each of grassland and forest land were over the tolerance limit. Cadmium (7% of land), nickel (4.8%), and arsenic (2.8%) were the most common pollutants.
Source: Communique on soil contamination survey.

Soil contamination was worse in the south than in the north. The Yangtze River and Pearl River deltas and old industrial areas of the northeast had especially prominent pollution problems and heavy metals were common soil pollutants in the southwest and south central regions. Around industrial sites 36% of soil was contaminated. Heightened pollution was found around industrial parks, oil-drilling sites, mining, where wastewater is used for irrigation, and within 150 meters of major roads.

Ministry of Environmental Protection officials said a comparison of pollutants against a baseline from the 7th five-year plan (1986-1990) showed a rapid increase in soil pollution. Cadmium contamination increased nationwide, including 50-percent increases in the southwest and southern coastal regions, and 10-to-40-percent in northern China, the northeast and western regions.

True to form, the troubling results of the survey--which has been underway since 2005--were not released until a major health threat--"cadmium rice"--was revealed to the public, and a "solution" could be announced.

Chinese officials say they are now going to deal with the pollution problem in several ways. They will carry out more surveys to better understand the pollution problems. The Peoples Congress has made plans to include soil pollution in laws for the first time. Officials will begin to monitor emissions of pollutants to prevent pollution. A pilot soil rehabilitation program in Zhutan District in Hunan Province was announced days before the survey results were released. The Ministry of Finance has announced their budget for addressing soil pollution will increase 9.8% this year, faster than the 7% overall increase in the budget. Special funds will be allocated for the Hunan pilot.

The vice chairman of the small group on central rural work Chen Xiwen said land producing contaminated agricultural products will be taken out of production of food crops and polluted land will be rehabilitated. The amount is estimated at 100 million mu--about 5 percent of the total. Conveniently, another long-suppressed survey released in December shows that China has more cropland than previously reported, so when polluted and environmentally-vulnerable land is removed from production China is still above its "red line" of 1.8 billion mu of cropland needed for "food security."

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