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China’s environmental regulators say they are planning a campaign that will target dumping and improper storage of hazardous materials. Special attention will be given to heavy metals and electronic waste.
Deputy director Zhang Lijun, a representative of the Ministry of environmental protection, mentioned in early September that the situation in Qujin city, in the southern province Yunan, was deteriorating. A local chemical company dumped more than 5,000 tons of chromium in June.
The case is not a singular one, as China has been confronting a crisis of heavy metals poisoning after years of lax policies regarding safety standards. This has led to a rise in the number of reported pollution emergencies, usually involving lead and other various toxins from chemical and electronics factories.
According to Zhang Lijun, the situation in Qujin, and many other similar cases, reflect “widespread inadequacies in handling and disposal of hazardous waste in the country and pose a threat to public health.” Zhang also added that companies handling chromium, polycrystalline silicon used in solar cells, sewage sludge and electronic waste would be facing closer scrutiny in the future.
The Qujin case caused national alarm after the chromium dumped by Yunnan Luliang Chemical Industry in June killed livestock and tainted rivers supplying drinking water for cities situated in the densely populated Pearl River Delta. The amount of chromium slag stockpiled at the chemical plant in Qujing reaches more than 140,000 tons, the environmental group Greenpeace reported.
The figures released recently by the government also point to the gravity of the situation. According to China Daily, the country produced 45.7 million tons of hazardous waste in 2007, an amount expected to increase by 5 percent to 7 percent a year in 2011-2015.
China’s environmental regulators have said they plan to clean up contamination of the soil and water supplies from factories scattered across the country, a side-effect of the concentration of so much of the world’s industrial production in China. Implementing efficient measures is also hindered by a lack of compliance at the local level.
In Qiujing the drivers who were meant to haul the chromium waste to a processing plant in a neighboring province, instead dumped the hazardous loads near a reservoir. According to media reports, rains washed some of the toxins into the lake, killing livestock.
After news of the incident surfaced, authorities in Yunnan initially denied complaints, voicing the fears of a public health hazard caused by inappropriate handling of toxic materials. In such instances, local officials heavily dependent on tax revenues from big factories usually try to downplay or cover up such problems.