According to new Greenpeace research published today, industrial discharges are poisoning China’s Pearl River Delta.(1) The problem is exacerbated by inadequate water pollution regulation, allowing factories to discharge wastewaters containing complex cocktails of chemicals capable of causing irreversible damage to the Delta and life around China’s third longest river.
Greenpeace collected and analysed 25 samples of wastewater discharges and sediments from five industrial sites located throughout the region.(2) A diverse range of hazardous chemicals were found, including high levels of heavy metals such as beryllium, copper and manganese. The latter is associated with brain damage. The Greenpeace analysis also revealed the presence of organic chemicals such as brominated flame retardants and bisphenol-A. Hormone disrupting alkyl phenols - some of which are listed in the EU priority hazardous substances list, were also present. (3) A number of these hazardous substances are not yet regulated in China.(4)
“’Made in China’ products used by consumers worldwide are being manufactured at a high cost to the Pearl River,” said Edward Chan, Campaign Manager, Greenpeace China. “If the results of our sampling are any indication of what factories in general are doing in China, then China’s waters are in deep trouble.”
Southern China’s Pearl River Delta, known as the ‘world’s factory floor’, accounted for nearly 30% of China’s exports in 2007.(5) 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.
“What is very disturbing is that once released, it is almost impossible to remove these hazardous substances from the environment,” stated Kevin Brigden, scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories. “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.”
Greenpeace is calling on industries to reduce and eliminate their use of hazardous chemicals by replacing them with safe alternatives. It calls upon government authorities to develop and implement stringent regulation to restrict and eliminate the release of hazardous chemicals, as top priority.
"China is paying a heavy price for its rapid industrialisation. It is time that China’s environmental regulations caught up with the pace of development,” concluded Chan. “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.”