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Chinese city launches experimental project to treat contaminated farmland

(Xinhua)

13:29, September 29, 2011

LANZHOU, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- A pollution treatment project has been launched in a northwest China city, aiming to transform a patch of farmland polluted with heavy metals into arable land.

The central government has budgeted 10 million yuan (1.56 million U.S. dollars) for the project, which will involve using chemical treatments to absorb pollutants on a patch of land in the city of Baiyin in northwest China's Gansu Province. After the pollutants are absorbed, they will be washed away with water and dissolved.

"Although these methods are effective, they are very expensive," said Zhang Qiong, chief engineer of the city's environmental protection bureau

Zhang said that if the project proves successful, the city government will spend 1.5 billion yuan over the next six years to expand the program to other areas that have been contaminated by heavy metals.

Desertification and pollution have eroded Gansu's limited supply of arable farmland over the years, significantly crippling agricultural production in the province.

Baiyin's arable land became contaminated in the 1960s, when a local silver mining company used a drainage facility to discharge industrial waste. The heavy metals discarded by the company have remained for decades, causing lingering problems for the local populace.

Local farmers claimed that several residents became afflicted with unknown diseases after the pollutants were discharged, with many adults losing their teeth early.

Heavy metal pollution has been blamed for health problems in several regions of China in recent years. Heavy metals do not decay over time like organic pollutants, making them more dangerous and more difficult to remove or eliminate.

The Ministry of Land and Resources estimates that heavy metal pollution results in the loss of 10 million metric tons of grain and the contamination of another 12 million metric tons annually, incurring 20 billion yuan in direct economic losses each year.

The prevention and treatment of heavy metal pollution is one of the tasks being targeted by the government's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). Under the plan, the central government plans to carry out treatment and recovery projects in 14 of China's provinces and regions, including Gansu.

"Through the state-sponsored project, experts hope to find more economical and feasible methods to treat heavy metal pollution," Zhang said.

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