EXPOSED! The poisoning of China's Pearl

Feature story - 28 October, 2009
The Pearl River is China's third longest river, and second largest by volume. But when it comes to pollution, it may well be on its way to being second to none.

Our new report, Poisoning the Pearl, discovers loopholes in Chinese pollution law.

The area around the Pearl River Delta has seen an incredibly fast rate of industrial growth. In 2007, the region, which is adjacent to Hong Kong, was responsible for more than 10 percent of China's Gross Domestic Product and around one-third of the country's exports.

But all that manufacturing comes at a high cost to the river and to the communities that rely on it -- nearly 47 million people get their drinking water from the Pearl.

A new Greenpeace study reveals how this vital water supply has become dangerously polluted, and how factories are being allowed to discharge wastewaters containing extremely hazardous chemicals capable of causing irreversible damage to the delta and life around it.

Poisoning the Pearl is the resultof seven months of fieldwork in the region by Greenpeace, and it aims to provide a snapshot of industrial water pollution.

Hazardous chemicals

We found a diverse range of hazardous chemicals in waste water and sediment samples that we collected from local industrial sites - including high levels of heavy metals such as beryllium (a known carcinogen) and manganese (associated with brain damage). Our analysis also revealed the presence of organic chemicals such as brominated flame retardants and bisphenol-A.

What is very disturbing is that once released, it is almost impossible to remove these hazardous substances from the environment. These substances, which are associated with a long 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.

Dr. Kevin Brigden, scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Exeter

Hormone-disrupting alkyl phenols - some of which are listed as priority hazardous substances in Europe, were also present. A number of these hazardous substances are not yet regulated in China.

And even where regulations exist, our data reveals they are not enforced: 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 allowable limit. Both companies export to the global markets.

Working on water

With this report we are launching our global Water Campaign, which calls on industries across the world to reduce and eliminate their use of hazardous chemicals by replacing them with safe alternatives. We're also urging government authorities to develop and implement stringent regulations to restrict and eliminate the release of hazardous chemicals.

China is paying a heavy price for its rapid industrialisation. It is time that China'senvironmental regulations caught up with the pace of development. 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.

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