This is 7 year old Yang Zhiyi. She lives in Jinding Town, Yunnan province. In September 2008, her blood was tested and found to contain elevated levels of lead. And she’s not the only one.

 

Jinding Town is located in one of western China's poorest counties. It is also located in a part of Yunnan rich in geological resources, long considered a treasure trove by mining corporations. And now, after years of unfettered and under-regulated exploitation, Yunnan now suffers the most serious heavy metal pollution in all of western China. A province famed for its stunning scenery and ecological diversity, “Beautiful Yunnan” is becoming “Polluted Yunnan”.

 

 

In fact, Yang Zhiyi’s hometown of Jinding is literally in the shadow of Asia’s biggest lead mine. The plant has caused numerous health problems for the villagers, especially amongst children, who are particularly susceptible to lead absorption. Yang Zhiyi’s own father works in the smelting plant, and admits the pollution is very serious.

 

So two months ago, the Greenpeace East Asia field team sent a special research team to Jinding. We collected household dust and earth and water samples around the town. Tests showed that cadmium and lead contamination in the area is widespread. Further analysis revealed that the samples' cadmium, lead and zinc content have a direct correlation to proximity to the Jinding Zinc Industrial Smelting Plant. In other words, the closer the villagers live to the plant, the worse their contamination.

 

Mining rights are owned by the Yunnan Lanping Jinding Lead & Zinc Mining Company - Asia's largest lead-zinc mine. The company has been linked on several occasions to incidents of lead and cadmium blood poisoning in children, contamination of farmland, and excessive levels of lead in corn and other crops.

In 2006, the corporation admitted that the minimum distance between homes and their smelting plant should be 600m. They promised to relocate residents accordingly. Nine years later, they still haven’t fulfilled their commitment.

So just what does it feel like to live in the shadow of a dangerous polluter? There’s no better way to understand than to experience it yourself. Our team took this spectacular 360 degree drone footage, which you can interact with on your computer to see the town, the shocking pollution from the smelting plant, the filthy tailings ponds, and the surrounding endangered scenery.

This is just one way we can show the world this scandal. We can’t let Yunnan Jinding Zinc Corporation Ltd. keep getting away with hiding from their responsibilities. They must keep their promise to relocate local residents.

 

Of course, relocation is only a small part of the story. Much of China, under guidance and pressure from central government, is acting to clean up its air, soil and water. But the Yunnan Provincial Government is deepening environmental and health hazards through its expansion of this industry.

Not only that, but the metal mining and smelting industry is spreading its heavy pollution from Eastern China to Western China - where people are more impoverished and less able to defend their rights. The shocking situation in Jinding is testament to the dangers of under-regulated expansion.

What’s happening in Jinding is happening in other places, and will happen in more if nothing changes. There’s so much at stake here. The Yunnan Provincial Government should lead the way and align with central government regulations - and control the expansion of this toxic industry.

 

With all our thanks to the brave children of Jinding Town who volunteered to appear in these photos.

Ada Kong, Toxics Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia