Greenpeace collects scientific evidence of hazardous chemicals in China through testing water samples and documenting environmental degradation. We then use this evidence to lobby polluters and the government to ask for change.
Water sampling is an effective way to document industrial water pollution. Greenpeace conducts independent laboratory testing of water sampled from rivers and streams, as well as wastewater directly collected from factories' discharge pipes.
Below are a few of our water sampling projects:
A deadly shade of blue: Xintang and Gurao
A Greenpeace campaigner takes a water sample from Dadun village, in Xintang, where the economy revolves around jeans production.
Xintang and Gurao are major textile factory towns in Guangdong province: Xintang is the “Jeans Capital of the World,” manufacturing 60% of China’s jeans production each year, while 80% of Gurao’s economy revolves around making lingerie and other clothing articles.
Unfortunately, in 2010 Greenpeace found that the rivers of both towns are seriously polluted. Textile production is far dirtier than you might think – fabric printing and dyeing requires heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury. Creating that classic blue for denim jeans is especially polluting, contaminating large quantities of water.
Greenpeace found heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and copper) in 17 out of 21 water and sediment samples taken from Xintang and Gurao. In one sample, cadmium exceeded China's national limits by 128 times!
After Greenpeace released its report Intimate Pollution, in 2011 the Xintang local government responded with a promise to implement ‘zero tolerance’ to polluters and conduct comprehensive investigation on such pollution.
Swimming in Poison
The Yangtze River may be China’s longest and most famous river, providing drinking water to 400 million people, but it is also home to nearly half of the country’s petrochemical plants.
In August 2010, Greenpeace collected samples of wild river fish from the upper, middle and low reaches of the river to study the extent of the Yangtze’s pollution, especially in terms of hazardous chemicals that can be absorbed by organisms.
A market selling fish caught from the Yangze River, in Wuhan, Hubei province. Greenpeace carried out tests on wild river fish for presence of endocrine disrupting chemcials.
Alarmingly, our tests showed that nearly all of the sampled fish contained hazardous chemicals, as well as heavy metals. In particular, our report Swimming in Poison focused on nonylphenols, octylphenols and perfluorinated compounds, which have been restricted in Europe and other countries due to their health risks. Yet in China, they are still widely in use in production, and they are manufactured for export.
In January 2011, the government added nonyphenols to their list of chemicals restricted for import and export.
Poisoning the Pearl
The Pearl River Delta region is known for its many factories – accounting for 30% of China’s exports in 2007 – but the river is paying a price.
In 2009, Greenpeace discovered that factories were dumping a complex cocktail of hazardous chemicals into the Pearl, which supplies drinking water to 47 million people.
We collected and analysed 25 samples of wastewater and sediment from five factory complexes. The results showed that all five complexes were dumping hazardous chemicals – including heavy metals, brominated fire retardants, bisphenol A, alkylphenols and phthalates – some at levels many times above the legal limit. These chemicals have been associated with cancer, kidney failure, nervous system problems. hormone disruptor and more.
Our test results were published in a report, Poisoning the Pearl, in October 2009. In February 2010, the Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau blacklisted 20 factories for failing to meet water discharge standards. The list included three of the five factories we named in Poisoning the Pearl.
For a look at our most recent toxics work, check out the news section.