As much as 16% of China’s soil is contaminated by dangerous pollutants, according to newly released information from the national environment ministry.
The report, based on a seven-year survey covering 2.4 million square miles, found that about 16% of the country’s soil and 19% of its arable land was polluted.
Some 82.8% of the contaminated samples contained toxic inorganic pollutants, such as nickel, mercury, arsenic, and lead.
The report said it was certain that agricultural production and other human activities were responsible. The sobering findings have only now been released, having previously been classified as a state secret.
“The national soil situation overall does not offer cause for optimism,” the report said.
“In some areas, soil pollution is relatively severe. The condition of arable land is troubling, with the problem of pollution from industry and mining particularly worrisome.”
The country’s pollution problems are well known, but it is the well-documented air pollution crisis that has made the most headlines.
Many major cities are frequently choked by smog, caused by traffic and coal emissions that often force citizens to stay indoors, causing respiratory diseases and reducing life expectancy.
China’s former health minister Chen Zhu recently estimated that air pollution – the fourth biggest killer in Beijing – accounts for up to 500,000 premature deaths in China each year.
However, environmentalists have warned that the dangers of soil pollution must not be underestimated.
“Air pollution is definitely more visible and present, but soil is the last environmental media where pollutants end up,” said Wu Yixiu, head of Greenpeace’s East Asia toxins campaign.
Such pollutants can “get into the food and affect everybody,” she warned.
In its most recent five-year plan, the Chinese government pledged to spend 30 billion yuan (£2.87 billion) to tackle the soil pollution problem, but critics say this isn’t enough.
Photo: Tom Thai via flickr