"Cadmium rice": heavy metal pollution of China's rice crops

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Publication - 2014-04-24
Greenpeace East Asia sampled soil and rice crops in villages close to a cluster of heavy metals smelters in Hunan Province, an area that ranks first in rice output and among the top five in nonferrous metals production. Testing and analysis of the samples shows that both rice and soil samples found near the industrial complex were contaminated by heavy metals, including lead. 12 out of all 13 rice samples contained excessive levels of cadmium.

Greenpeace East Asia sampled soil and rice crops in villages close to a cluster of heavy metals smelters in Hunan Province, an area that ranks first in rice output and among the top five in nonferrous metals production. Testing and analysis of the samples shows that both rice and soil samples found near the industrial complex were contaminated by heavy metals, including lead. 12 out of all 13 rice samples contained excessive levels of cadmium.

Using statistics in the China Statistical Yearbook on Environment (2010), we estimated that the nonferrous metals smelting business contribute over 80% of all cadmium and lead in industrial waste water.

In 2002, the Ministry of Agriculture found in an investigation that 10% of rice samples contained excessive cadmium. In a similar investigation in 2013, Guangdong Provincial government found 44% of rice sample to have excessive cadmium. However, little research has been done on the source of cadmium contamination.

Greenpeace has deduced from official statistics that the nonferrous industry is the biggest contributor of cadmium and lead in China, and there is a significant overlap between nonferrous metals producing regions and grain producing regions. (Six out of the top seven nonferrous metals producing provinces in China are also key grain producers.) We initiated this research to further investigate into the potential link between the nonferrous metals industry and rice contamination.

Keeping a fast pace of urbanization, China is struggling to save enough land for farming and keep a high rate of grain self-sufficiency, but apart from quantity, whether it can maintain soil health remains a question.

And while Beijing has expressed a strong will to downsize the heavy metals smelting sector in its 12th Five-Year Plan, it is unclear how local governments are implementing the order. It remains a question how China will maintain a high pace of industrialization and economic growth, and at the same time feed its huge population with enough safe food.

Download the technical report below:

Heavy metal pollution of China's rice

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