Soil pollution poisons more than farmland

08:36, March 10, 2011      

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A corner of the affordable-housing project in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, which was found to have been built on the site of a previous chemical plant. Sun Xinming / for China Daily

Soil pollution is spreading, and how to tackle it has been given priority status at the ongoing annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Environmental campaigns during the past five years primarily targeted air and water pollution, but now more attention is being given to the risks posed by contaminated soil.

Jia Kang, a CPPCC National Committee member, called for the legislators to start the drafting process for a soil protection law immediately.

Jia, who also heads the institute of fiscal science at the Ministry of Finance, said this week that land pollution already threatens the sustainability of economic growth and social stability.

Health Minister Chen Zhu said comprehensive evaluations of health risks from soil pollution are already under way.

Environmental Minister Zhou Shengxian has vowed repeatedly in recent months to strengthen efforts on curbing soil pollution during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015).

China is already suffering direct economic losses caused by farmland pollution, which leads to reduced grain production and public questions over food safety, Jia said. In the long run, he said, land pollution will also take a toll on China's grain exports and threaten the country's ecological security.

But few people have noticed that soil pollution is not just an issue on farms, but also occurs in urban areas.

Affordable, but risky

Last November, an affordable-housing project in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, was found to have been built on the site of a previous chemical plant, according to news reports.

The compound, with 2,400 apartments, was constructed to meet the demand of middle- and low-income earners. Those who were qualified to purchase the property were considered lucky.

However, few of them knew their homes were constructed right where Wuhan Yangtze Chemical Plant once operated, the Beijing News reported. The project's developer didn't evaluate the site's health risks, the newspaper said.

It was not until construction was almost finished that an environmental review by China University of Geoscience discovered that the site was contaminated with antimony, a metallic element that can cause heart and lung problems, as well as with organic pollutants.

As a remedy, plastic sheeting was spread over 21,000 square meters to insulate the contaminated soil, and new soil was spread on top of the plastic. The measures cost the developer 6.8 million yuan ($1.03 million), according to the newspaper.

Local government officials said the compound is now safe to live in, but some residents aren't so sure. There's still 3,200 tons of contaminated soil buried beneath them.

Source:China Daily
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