Yangtze ‘not dead’ scientists announce

Pollution in the Yangtze River is not as severe as scientists had thought and its ecosystem can be saved if Chinese authorities act now, a new study has concluded.

A group of Swiss and Chinese scientists who examined water quality in the world’s third largest river presented their findings last Friday dispelling the fear that the river is dead.

The experts admitted that the level of pollution is enormous – with more than 25bn tonnes of waste being poured into the 6,300km river every year – but the concentration of pollutants remains comparable with that of other rivers.

The enormous rate of water flow has a vital dilution effect, the scientists found.

“The water quality of the Yangtze is comparable to that of other large rivers in the world,” geochemist Beat Müller said.

“The current heavy metal concentrations in the Yangtze remain about two to eight times smaller than in the Rhine 30 years ago, at the peak of its pollution.”

Agriculture was identified as the main current source of pollution in the river, causing the quantity of nitrogen to double over the past 20 years.

The scientists could also not establish a link between pollution levels and the extinction of freshwater river dolphins, the baiji, or the rapid decline of finless porpoises in the waterway.

However, they urged Chinese authorities to act quickly to improve the quality of the water and ensure the survival of aquatic species such as the finless porpoise and the Chinese sturgeon.

Expedition organiser August Pfluger said: “The ecosystem of the Yangtze can be saved if China intensifies its activities in water protection now.”

They also sounded warnings about the concentration of pollution where the Yangtze River meets the East China Sea.

Each day 1,500 tonnes of nitrogen and 4.6 tonnes of arsenic wash along the coastal waters.

Mr Müller said: “The more nitrate enters the sea, the more the blue-green algae grow, mainly at lower sea levels, and the oxygen becomes scarce.”

Kate Martin

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