Poisoned Groundwater Creates Cancer Villages

Poisoned Groundwater Creates Cancer Villages

04-09 15:12 Caijing

China’s long-time practice of doling out light punishments to polluters has aggravated the problem of groundwater pollution.

By staff reporters Gao Shengke, Xu Jing, and He Tao

A recent claim that enterprises in Weifang, Shandong Province were illegally pumping wastewater underground into pressurized wells highlighted the threats to groundwater safety in China over the Spring Festival in February.

Groundwater pollution is an even bigger public hazard than the surface water pollution that contaminates China’s rivers and streams. It is also more difficult to clean up.

Underground water is the source of drinking water for 60 percent of China’s population. Currently, 360 million people in the countryside lack access to clean drinking water, while some people in rural regions drink untreated groundwater. In addition, underground water in nearly 20 percent of Chinese cities failed to reach Class III standards, which means it should not be used as a source of drinking water.The biggest polluters of groundwater have been untreated industrial water and domestic sewage. Other contaminants include pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and waste residues. Survey data show that pollutants frequently found in groundwater include chloroform, toluene, tetrachloroethylene, benzopyrene, chlorobenzene, and benzene, all of which can irritate human mucosa. Moreover, benzene is a known carcinogen as confirmed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Groundwater pollution is especially serious in the countryside where high-polluting enterprises have been flocking in recent years. Many of these enterprises drain untreated industrial sewage through seepage pits or wells, or even pump it underground.

It is well known that several villages in Shenqiu, a county in Henan Province near the Shaying River, have high incidences of cancer. The local environmental protection department confirmed back in 2005 that 50-meter deep groundwater in Shenqiu was undrinkable. An official at the local environmental protection bureau told Caijing that contaminants have seeped even deeper over the years. Some villages in Shenqiu have wells which are over 100 meters deep, yet the groundwater still fails to meet standards.

Aside from the cancer villages, several other regions on both sides of the Shaying River also suffer from high rates of cancer. Local residents have no choice but to keep drinking the water they know to be toxic.

Despite growing groundwater pollution, pollution abatement efforts are still in their infancy in China. International experience shows that groundwater pollution is irreversible. So far, no technology or method is available that can completely clean up contaminated groundwater; indeed, it will take considerable time and money simply to alleviate the pollution.

Surveillance and assessment data on national groundwater pollution are incomplete due to the absence of data and technology sharing among water resources, environmental protection, and land & resources departments. “So far, [relevant departments] only have an approximate idea of the overall condition of groundwater in China,” said Du Ying, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), during this year’s Two Sessions.

The U.S. government enacted the Superfund Act in the 1980s, which established the “polluter pays” principle and eventually eradicated the practice of pumping waste water underground. In comparison, China has long doled out light punishments to polluters, which in effect have aggravated groundwater pollution. China, therefore, needs to prevent additional pollutants from entering into groundwater by strengthening lawmaking and law enforcement. Experts have called for the government to enact a special law on groundwater protection for years, but to no avail.

Vice-Minister of Water Resources Li Guoying stated March 8, 2013 that the Ministry would speed up the legislation of groundwater protection.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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