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Xinhua Insight: Regulation vacuum under spotlight after toxic wastewater row

English.news.cn   2012-12-12 21:11:58            

HANGZHOU, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- A river in China' textile production base receives dozens of tonnes of toxic wastewater from two treatment plants every day, which however argued they had complied with the nation's environmental standards.

Greenpeace early this month published results of an investigation of alleged pollution in the Qiantang River in east China's Zhejiang Province.

According to the organization, a number of cancerogenic substances such as aromatic amine, methylene chloride, and perfluorooctanoic acid with reproductive toxicity were found in water samples taken from the plants, which were analyzed at a lab in Britain's Exeter University.

These substances are normally used in the textile and chemical industries.

However, local environmental authorities said the communal wastewater treatment plants in Binhai Industrial Park of Shaoxing County and Linjiang Industrial Park of Xiaoshan District of Hangzhou both complied with China's national standards for wastewater disposal.

Shaoxing, an hour drive from the provincial capital of Hangzhou, generates about one-third of the textile output of China, the world's biggest textile exporter.

The Binhai Industrial Park in Shaoxing, established in 2002 as Zhejiang's first eco-industry demonstration zone with a designed population of 180,000, now mainly hosts petrochemical, polyester fiber, packing material, biomedicine, textile and farm-produce processing industries.

The local wastewater treatment plant is the largest of its kind in China disposing dyeing and finishing effluent, with a daily processing capacity of 90 tonnes.

As sewage pipes of the wastewater treatment plant in Binhai Industrial Park are placed deep down in the riverbed, it is impossible to recognize the pollution at the draining outlet.

Linjiang industrial park is situated nearby the estuary of the Hangzhou Bay and in the southern bank of the 688-km-long Qiantang River. Many of its enterprises are in the new energy, laser equipment, new material and electronic business.

At the draining outlet of the park's wastewater treatment plant, a black whirlpool about 50 meters in diameter is seen tumbling into the blue-black Qiantang river strewn with white foam. The pungent odor and heat of the effluents are repulsive, according to a Xinhua reporter.


The environmental watchdogs of both places deny they have neglected their duties.

Hu Jian, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Shaoxing City, said at least 14 spot checks had been conducted annually by environmental authorities at county, city and provincial levels over the effluents of the sewage treatment plant in Binhai Industrial Park.

The checks were for 18 contaminants, including chemical oxygen demand at the draining outlet and anomia nitrogen.

"We are never soft-handed to sneaky discharge of wastewater that fails to meet national standards," said Hu.

During a midnight overhaul on Oct. 30, the environmental watchdog of Shaoxing County caught a leather dyeing and printing factory illegally discharging unprocessed wastewater and ordered it to halt production for three months.

Under the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law revised in 2008, factories illegally discharging wastewater may face a fine of 20,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan, a production halt and charged for pollutant disposal.

Since January, Shaoxing environment protection authorities have cracked 110 environment violations and illegal activities, imposing 7.24 million yuan in fines and suspended the production of 39 enterprises. Seven people were given administrative or criminal detention, official statistics showed.

According to Hu, all factories, including the dying and finishing plants, of the Binhai Industrial Park have connected their sewage pipes with the communal wastewater treatment plant for concentrated disposal.

The other controversial wastewater treatment plant, built at a cost of 720 million yuan, in Linjiang also receives regular inspections by local environment authorities, sometimes in the presence of local residents, according to Zhu Haibin, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Xiaoshan District.

However, Zhu admitted that testing the cancerogenic substances discovered in the Green Peace analysis is not compulsory according to existing standards.

"Testing for all those cancerogenic and toxic substances are not included in our national standards. And relevant tests are beyond our technical capacity," he said.

In a surprise overhaul days after the report was issued, Xiaoshan Environmental Protection Bureau sent eight teams on night inspections to the district's 60-strong dyeing and finishing as well as chemical firms.

None of them were found illegally discharging unprocessed wastewater. A few enterprises discharging excessive pollutants would be penalized according to laws, said an official statement released Friday by the Xiaoshan Environmental Protection Bureau.

So far, no individual suppliers have been found releasing toxic substances in both places.


But these results are far from being satisfactory for local residents.

Wei Dongying, a local with the Wuli Village of Nanyang Township of Xiaoshan District, said he has been waiting for the river to become clean and safe for more than 10 years.

"Wastewater from the draining outlet varies in color. Sometimes it is red, sometimes it is green, quite often it is black. We can not accept their arguments to call such effluent safe and up-to-standard. When such wastewater was discharged into paddy fields, all crops were dead," said Wei.

Zhu Haibin said it is impossible to make the after-disposal wastewater "as clear as natural water" due to residue of dye materials. According to the national standards, so long as the color of wastewater can be removed after dilution by natural water 80 times as much, it is up to standard, he said.

In response to the enquiry by a few residents in the Sanjiang Village who suspected the wastewater had caused them cancer, Shaoxing city bureau of health cited a survey by Zhejiang province's chronic disease monitoring agency to prove that there was no direct link.

The average number of tumor incidences of Sanjiang Village over the past three years has climbed from 160.8 per ten thousand people to 282.42, lower than the average of Shaoxing city which rose from 219.95 per ten thousand to 287.92, the survey showed.

Li Yifang, a project director of the Greenpeace International, said that there exist great limitations in China's wastewater disposal as the country's existing technologies are not advanced enough to cope with a substantial proportion of toxic and hazardous substances in industrial wastes.

Toxic and hazardous substances on the country's list for hazardous chemical management are subject to safety control mostly in areas of transportation and sale, not in the process of production, he said.

Wastewater treatment plants must upgrade their technologies so that more toxic contaminants can be processed, said Yang Jianhua, a researcher with the Zhejiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

The government also needs to enhance relevant legislation so that the environmental watchdogs can be better equipped to exercise zero tolerance over pollution, said Yang.

Editor: Yang Lina
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