One Fifth of China’s Farmland PollutedJune 24th, 2014
New report confirms scale of China’s soil pollution problem with 20% of farmland contaminated
by Jennifer Duggan
A fifth of China‘s farmland is polluted, according to an offical report based on the results of an extensive survey.
Soil pollution has long been a concern in China due to the country’s rapid industrialisation and the report carried on the website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection confirms the extent of the problem. The report states that pollutants in more than 16% of Chinese soil exceeds national standards and that figure rises to 20% for arable land.
It describes the situation as “not optimistic” and said said that the quality of farmland is worrying while deserted industrial and mining land is seriously polluted. The main causes of soil pollution are industry and agriculture, according to the report. Cadmium, nickel and arsenic are the top three pollutants found.
The survey was carried out over seven years, ending in December 2013 and covered around 630 square kilometers of land across the country. According to state media, the survey took around 100,000 samples. Almost 70% of the samples were found to be “lightly polluted” with pollution levels twice the national standard. Around 7% were found to be “heavily polluted” with levels more than five times the national standard.
Most of the affected farmland lies along the eastern coast which is the most developed region and home to much of the country’s heavy industry. Heavy metal pollution was particularly bad in the southwest of the country, the report found.
It is not immediately clear if the survey the report is based on is linked to a nationwide survey that was thought to have ended in 2010 and which was deemed to be a “state secret”. Beijing-based lawyer Dong Zhengwei requested the findings of a study but was told by the ministry that it would only release a few details and that the full report was a state secret.
China’s air pollution problems have made headlines worldwide, however soil pollution is less visible has received a lot less attention. But it has previously been estimated that it could be a bigger problem than either air or water pollution, with impacts on public health and food production.
In January, an agriculture official admitted that millions of hectares of farmland could be withdrawn from production because of severe pollution by heavy metals. And last December the vice minister of land and resources estimated that 3.3 million hectares of land is polluted, mostly in gain producing regions.
Last year the government admitted to the existence of cancer villages, areas where cancer rates have risen dramatically due to high pollution levels, usually from nearby heavy industrial plants.
There has been increasing pressure on the government to release accurate and up-to-date data on pollution. Public pressure has led to the government to publish air pollution data online so residents in affected cities can take precautionary measures such as wearing face masks.