Chen Weihua

Don't turn blind eye to domestic pollution

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-06-08 06:46
Large Medium Small

The oil spill caused by petroleum behemoth BP has evoked anger and protests across the United States, from ordinary citizens living in cities along the Gulf of Mexico to President Barack Obama.

After watching the appalling images of the environmental disaster on TV, it is clear that the fury seems not only reasonable, but also entirely warranted.

The leakage of thousands of barrels of crude oil a day into the ocean has turned the beautiful coast into a toxic zone.

Some in China have recently cautioned about the expanded offshore drilling taking place along the country's long coastline. To learn from others' mistakes is clearly smart. Over the past three decades, China has repeated too many of the colossal errors that industrialized countries made over the last two centuries.

What is puzzling is that most Chinese seem to turn a blind eye and few are angry at the serious pollution in the nation's offshore waters.

The one happening along China's coast seems on a much larger scale than the one in the Gulf of Mexico over the last 50 days. It looks like a dozen, if not a hundred, such oil spills are taking place at the same time.

A report from the State Oceanic Administration in March showed that 147,000 sq km of Chinese coastal waters failed to meet "clear water" standards in 2009, an increase of 7.3 percent over 2008.

The most polluted ocean waters exist near Liaodong Bay, Bohai Bay, Laizhou Bay, Hangzhou Bay, Yangtze River and Pearl River estuaries to the sea as well as waters along major cities.

Only 24 percent of China's offshore ecosystem was regarded as healthy, while 52 percent was classified as sub-healthy and 24 percent unhealthy.

Oil, inorganic nitrogen and phosphate, the latter two coming mostly from domestic and industrial waste and urban sewage, were the main pollutants.

Most shellfish in the offshore areas were tainted with excessive harmful chemicals such as lead, cadmium and the insecticide DDT. Levels of lead found in shellfish were 50 percent higher than normal, while cadmium and DDT levels were about 40 percent higher, according to the report.

Sixty-eight red tides, or algae blooms, caused mostly by excessive sewage in the water, were reported along the coast last year, affecting an area of 14,100 sq m.

The report also found that 337 of 457 waste discharging areas along the shore had released excessive amount of waste and sewage into the ocean than permitted by the government.

The report named as culprits only a dozen companies along the coast of Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangxi, skipping the majority of factories that should be held responsible for causing the pollution.

In the past decades, many coastal provinces have aggressively explored their offshore resources to boost the local economy and reaped significant economic rewards. But they have done enormous damage to the fragile ocean ecosystem.

Companies that pollute China's ocean waters usually feel little pressure or anger from the government or the public. Many are even protected by the local authorities because they pay handsomely to the local tax coffers.

Apart from a cautious approach to offshore drilling, what we should learn from the BP case is to incite the same type of public anger.

Related readings:
Don't turn blind eye to domestic pollution Environment watchdog punishes cities, companies for pollution
Don't turn blind eye to domestic pollution China to strengthen supervision of listed firms' pollution
Don't turn blind eye to domestic pollution 'Pressure mounting' in anti-pollution drive 

A list of the biggest polluters of each province, city, county, town and village should be compiled and made public on a regular basis. If local government agencies are unable or unwilling to take up the job, NGOs and many private citizens should dig the polluters out. It won't be a difficult job given the superb "human flesh search" skills of Chinese netizens.

We cannot expect that these shameless companies will voluntarily stop polluting the environment. We should boycott the products of polluters unless they desist from sullying our water, air and land and stop causing grave health problems to our citizens and offspring.

It will be a mistake of historic proportions if we continue to ignore the hundreds or thousands of horrific "oil spills" taking place in the country, whether along the coast, in cities or the countryside.