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Metal poisoning scandals raise land pollution concerns

(Xinhua)

14:31, October 17, 2011

BEIJING, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- China needs to strike a balance between economic growth and safety, experts said following a spate of metal pollution scandals around the country that roused public anger.

"From a historical perspective, we see a growing number of land pollution cases associated with heavy metals in China over the past three decades," said Zhang Jianxin, a researcher with the Hunan Planning Institute of Land and Resources.

In Hunan province, 7,150 square km of land, or roughly 3.4 percent of the province's total area, has been contaminated by heavy metals, according to data from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Another recent study conducted by the Ministry of Land and Resources in Hunan identified elevated levels of heavy metals in a 250 km by 10 km belt adjacent to Dongting Lake, China's second-largest freshwater lake. Nearby crops, reeds and oysters have been found to be contaminated by cancer-causing cadmium.

Metal poisoning has also wreaked havoc in areas ranging from old industrial zones in the northeast to the economic powerhouse of Guangdong in the south.

A report from the Liaoning Provincial Committee of the Jiusan Society, one of China's non-communist parties, showed that wastewater from a zinc plant and several lead mines has caused severe land pollution in the cities of Shenyang, Jinzhou and Huludao.

In Guangdong, large amounts of farmland in the Pearl River Delta is contaminated with heavy metals discharged from information technology companies, according to a report released last year by 34 non-governmental environmental groups.

Experts say that heavy metal pollution is a side effect of China's manufacturing boom and that local governments across the country should consider creating a balance between economic development and environmental protection.

Chinese provinces have witnessed reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions and chemical oxygen demand - a measure of water pollution - as the world's second-largest economy vowed to shift away from its reliance on fossil energy and heavy industry.

However, heavy metal-related land pollution has not been taken seriously in some places, not only because it is invisible to the public in its primary stages, but also because officials put growth figures ahead of environmental protection, said Zhou Xinxin, deputy chief of the Hubei Provincial Bureau of Environmental Protection in central China.

Media reports in June last year said that the government of Leiyang, a city in Hunan province, failed to shut down a number of illegal smelting operations that had caused heavy metal pollution, in defiance of eight repeated orders from provincial authorities.

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