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If environmental pollution has been compromising people's quality of life in China, soil contaminated with heavy metals is eroding the foundation of the country's food safety and becoming a looming public health hazard.
The government is reportedly making a detailed map of the extent to which the country's soil has been contaminated with heavy metals. This will hopefully facilitate action to address and remedy the problem.
A Beijing lawyer's request for information about soil contamination was turned down. The latest attempt to map out polluted areas will be conducive to more sensible and truthful responses to such requests.
The repeated detection of much higher amounts of cadmium than permitted by State standards in rice from Central China's Hunan province early this year should serve as a wake-up call to the danger heavy metal pollution poses.
Analysis of soil samples by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in recent years has found that soil contamination has kept worsening in some regions. Compared with a survey from 1994 to 1995, the analysis shows the total area of soil contaminated with heavy metals has been on the increase and such pollution is expanding to the densely populated east of China.
The overuse of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers as well as over-cropping for higher output have accelerated soil acidification. Once soil is contaminated with heavy metals, experts say it will take more than 1,000 years for it to disappear on its own. Such heavy metals as cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic pose a serious threat to people's health.
The exploitation of heavy metals at the cost of the soil and the environment, and the over-farming of arable land at the expense of its long-term fertility can be compared to the act of draining a pond to get all the fish.
Lack of foresight spells trouble ahead. The country cannot afford inaction or even foot-dragging on this issue. Behind the making of the detailed map is hopefully the top authorities' understanding of the potential risks that soil contamination poses to the country's food safety. Then real action will likely be taken to address the problem.