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People's Daily Online>>China Society

2001 flood left legacy of contamination

By  Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)

15:25, February 02, 2012

Tong Yue'e, a 58-year-old villager, cultivates herbs in December to be transplanted onto polluted land in Huanjiang county, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. After it is transplanted, the plant will absorb heavy metals that contaminate the soil. Much of the land in the area was contaminated by residue left after a flood in 2001. (Cheng Yingqi / China Daily)

HECHI, Guangxi - Tan Shi is used to heavy rain, so it never occurred to him during a weeklong storm in 2001 that the inundation would pose lethal dangers for years.

It was not a "dramatic" storm by South China standards, where typhoons are not unusual. All 90 people in Tan's village - Fulong, in Huanjiang county, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region - survived.

But the rainstorm flooded three depleted iron mines on an upstream bank of the Dahuan River and inundated 667 hectares of farmland.

After the floodwaters receded in June 2001, Tan said, foul-smelling, various-colored substances coated the corn and sugarcane fields.

"I was only 16 and not at all aware of the damage these substances could do," Tan said.

Crop yields decreased sharply in the village. Worse yet, about 10 people were diagnosed with tumors in the ensuing years, and some of them died.

The killer was those substances, Tan and his fellow villagers learned several years after the storm.

"When I found out, my heart sank, and I thought it was the end of the world," he said.

The mixtures of lead, zinc, sulfur and arsenic "will kill you if you ingest only half a gram of them in a day", said Lei Mei, a professor at the Center for Environmental Remediation of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Resources Research, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Hope came in 2010, however, when a group of scientists planted Pteris vittata, or Chinese brake fern, in every corner of the village.

The plant absorbs heavy metal contaminants from the soil bit by bit.

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