Chemical pollution has become a silent threat to the lives of many people in China. As a result of rapid industrial development, millions of people are drinking polluted water, eating polluted food and using everyday objects that contain hazardous chemicals.
What are hazardous chemicals?
Hazardous chemicals are substances that are dangerous to people, wildlife and the environment at any stage of their lifecycle, from production to use to disposal.
Many hazardous chemicals are used in factories during the production process, after which they are dumped into rivers and lakes. They can also be an ingredient in the final product, such as plasticizers in plastics or heavy metals in electronics.
Hazardous chemicals and water pollution
A boy walks barefoot in the wastewater discharge of a fabric dyeing factory in Gurao, Guangdong province.
The outlook for China's water resources is dire. Not only does the country have a severe water shortage, but what little water there exists is often severely polluted by industrial wastewater.
Thousands of factories are dumping untreated wastewater filled with heavy metals and toxic chemicals into rivers, waterways and lakes. As a result, almost half of the rivers in China are considered unfit for drinking, while more than half of China's major cities and towns have seriously polluted groundwater.
Greenpeace is working to end industrial toxic pollution in China today.
Detoxing the fashion industry
Collecting samples from a factory discharge pipe in China.
Clean water is not only a basic human right - it is the world's most threatened essential resource. Aside from being critical habitats for wildlife, waterways such as rivers and lakes provide vital resources. Many people rely on this water for drinking, for farming, and for foods like fish and shellfish. Yet these vital water sources are often abused by industry and treated as if they are private sewers.
The textile industry is chemically intensive - using a number of different chemicals for everything from dyeing fabrics to printing and finishing. The wastewater from these processes is often toxic and can contaminate important waterways. This hazardous discharge can negatively affect human health, wildlife, and the environment.
Many hazardous chemicals can also be transported in our oceans, atmosphere and food chains and accumulate in places far away from their original source. They have been found to build up in the bodies of animals including birds, fish, whales, polar bears and even human breast milk. The problem and the solution are therefore not only a cause of local concern. This is a truly global issue.
Find out more: The Detox Campaign
Hazardous Chemicals and Electronic Waste
It is a cruel reality that the hi-tech electronics and gadgets of the developed world are shipped to China, India and Africa for their final rest.
A worker sorts through a pile of e-waste, Longgang, Guangdong.
Thousands of tons of discarded electronics are exported to China every year, where they are "recycled" in makeshift scrap yards by low-paid workers and their children.
Unfortunately, workers are constantly exposed to the hazardous chemicals and metals contained in the electronics, because they break down everything by hand in appalling conditions. As a result, the electronics may be "recycled" but they are also releasing a toxic slew of metals and chemicals into workers, children and the environment at large.
Find out more: Hazardous Chemicals and Electronic Waste