Greenpeace's new report, Poisoning the Pearl, discovers loopholes in Chinese pollution law.
The problem is exacerbated by inadequate water pollution regulation, allowing factories to discharge wastewaters containing complex cocktails of chemicals capable of causing irreversible damage to the Delta and life around China's third longest river.
Read the report, Poisoning the Pearl.
Greenpeace collected and analysed 25 samples of wastewater discharges and sediments from five industrial sites located throughout the region.
A diverse range of hazardous chemicals were found, including high levels of heavy metals such as beryllium, copper and manganese, which has been linked to brain damage.
Greenpeace analysis also revealed the presence of organic chemicals such as brominated flame retardants and bisphenol-A. Hormone-disrupting alkylphenols – some of which are listed in the EU priority hazardous substances list – were also present.
A number of these hazardous substances are not yet regulated in China.
"'Made in China' products used by consumers worldwide are being manufactured at a high cost to the Pearl River", said Edward Chan, Campaign Manager, Greenpeace East Asia.
"If the results of our sampling are any indication of what factories in general are doing in China, then China's waters are in deep trouble."
Southern China's Pearl River Delta, known as the "world's factory floor", accounted for nearly 30% of China's exports in 2007.
Samples from one of the sites, Kingboard Fogang, contained beryllium at 25 times the levels allowed by local regulation. Samples from Wing Fung Printed Circuit Board Ltd. contained copper at 12 times the maximum allowable limit.
Both companies export to the global markets.
"What is very disturbing is that once released, it is almost impossible to remove these hazardous substances from the environment," said Kevin Brigden, scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories.
"These substances, which are associated with a laundry list of health problems such as cancer, endocrine disruption, kidney failure and impact to the nervous system, pollute the environment and put people's health at risk."
Greenpeace is calling on industries to reduce and eliminate their use of hazardous chemicals by replacing them with safe alternatives.
It calls upon government authorities to develop and implement stringent regulation to restrict and eliminate the release of hazardous chemicals, as top priority.
"China is paying a heavy price for its rapid industrialisation. It is time that China's environmental regulations caught with the pace of development," concluded Chan.
"As climate change leads to a rapid depletion of the world's water resources it is even more important than ever that we stop poisoning our precious rivers," said Chan.
Notes to Editors:
- For the full version of the Greenpeace report Poisoning the Pearl: An investigation into industrial water pollution in the Pearl River Delta, please see here.
- The sampled industrial facilities are:
Kingboard (Fogang) Industrial Area (Fogang City, Guangdong Province)
Kingboard (Panyu Nansha) Industrial Area (Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province)
Wing Fung P.C. Board Co. Ltd (Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province)
Dongguan Cheong Ming Printing Co. Ltd (Dongguan City, Guangdong Province)
Qingyuan Top Dragon Co. Ltd (Qingyuan City, Guangdong Province)
- Samples from Kingboard (Fogang) and Kingboard (Panyu Nasha) Industrial Areas contained brominated chemicals, including the hormone-disrupting brominated flame retardant TBBPA.
Hormone-disrupting alkylphenols, priority hazardous chemicals under EU legislation, were found in samples from Kingboard (Fogang) Industrial Area and Qingyuan Top Dragon Textile Co. Ltd.
Phthalates, toxic to reproduction, were found in samples from Kingboard (Panyu Nansha) Industrial Area, Wing Fung P.C. Board Co. Ltd. and Dongguan Cheongming Printing Co. Ltd.
Toxic dichloromethane and hormone-disrupting bisphenol-A were found in some samples.
- Water regulation places heavy emphasis on conventional pollutants such as chemical oxygen demand (COD) and suspended solids (SS) but far less so on hazardous chemicals. For more information on China's current policies on industrial water pollution and their loopholes, please refer to Chapter 4 of the report Poisoning the Pearl.