Damp with sweat, dust, and chaff, [the farmer] pulls a plastic hose into a water pump that is powered by a truck with a belt-drive. The moment the engines roar, the ingenious makeshift machine fills the hose with turbid water from the nearby canal where a pharmaceutical factory has just dumped its rancid effluent.
via Toxic Water: Across Much of China, Huge Harvests Irrigated with Industrial and Agricultural Runoff | Circle of Blue WaterNews.
Photo © Aaron Jaffe / Circle of Blue
Polluted water and trash mingle on the bank of the Yellow River in Lanzhou, China.
As farmers across China produce increasing amounts of food to feed a burgeoning middle-class surge, much of it is irrigated with polluted water.
Much of China’s water is so contaminated that it should not even be touched, yet tremendous amounts of the grains, vegetables, and fruits that are served in homes and restaurants, as well as textiles that are sold in markets, are irrigated with untreated industrial waste water.
The beef and pork desired by the middle- and upper classes consume large amounts of grain, grown with polluted water. Rice, too, is contaminated with cadmium,
a heavy metal that is discharged in mining and industrial sewage, according to scientists at Nanjing Agricultural University.
Nearly 15% of China’s river water is unusable for any purpose, and half the groundwater nation wide is polluted. The worst pollution is in industrial areas in the southeast, and the drier agricultural areas in the northeast.
Half of the water pollution is actually caused by intensive farming:
fertilizers, pesticides, and livestock waste that are carried into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters, and underground aquifers by rainfall and snowmelt.
Photo © Adam Dean for Circle of Blue
High nutrient levels from fertilizer runoff produce mats of thick algae in a main-stem irrigation canal in Liaoning Province.
“China is developing too rapidly,” Wang told Circle of Blue. “It took Western countries 100 and more years to develop to this level — it took China 30 years. “
Although China sees the problems, addressing them is another issue entirely. Restrictions will slow economic growth, and the central government doesn’t want that to happen.
“All the environmental problems in China are political problems,” Hu Kanping told Circle of Blue. “And water pollution is more difficult to address than air pollution. In many areas, there’s resistance from farmers and local governments to address this problem, because it will affect their irrigation; it will raise their water fees and slow local GDP growth.”
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