China’s polluted soils pose health risk

A tenth of China's arable land is polluted with heavy metals and other toxins, with the pollution contaminating food crops, the country's environment agency has said.

Ten million hectares of China’s total arable land has been damaged by pollution from sewage, waste, scrap metal and acid rain, with serious consequences for health and ecology, officials told Xinhua state news agency.

Heavy metals are taken up by cereals and other food crops from the soil with around 12m tonnes of grain contaminated each year, the said. China’s State Environmental Protection Agency resulting losses are estimated at 20bn yuan, or $2.5bn.

The agency called for more “grass-roots montoring” in rural areas of China to curb polluting activity such as fly-tipping and unauthorized sewage discharges, in the absence of sufficient environmental monitoring staff.

China only has 50,000 environmental monitoring and inspection personnel working at all levels of environmental protection, for a population of 1.3bn and over a million polluting factories, the agency said.

The country has no legislation that would keep soil and poultry farming pollution in check, it said.

The warning over soil contamination coincides with an OECD report that found “huge gaps” between theory and practice China’s environmental strategy. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report also said more citizen involvement in environmental monitoring was needed, echoing the Environment Agency’s calls for “grass roots” monitoring.

OECD deputy secretary-general, Kiyo Akasaka said: “Overall, environmental efforts have lacked effectiveness and efficiency, largely as a result of implementation gaps.

“We recommend to strengthen environmental democracy with respect to the disclosure of environmental information and citizen’s participation, including through hotlines,” he said.

Goska Romanowicz

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