In the past 12 months, some 120 million tons of household sewage, mostly untreated, have been released into the Yellow River in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province in northwest China, a report by China Central Television (CCTV) said on Wednesday.
Lu Shaowen, director of the pollution control office of the Lanzhou environmental protection bureau was quoted by the station as saying that only about 3,300 tons of the effluent had been treated, and even that failed to meet quality standards because of the city's out-of-date sewage treatment facilities.
Tests showed that the levels of nitrogen and coliform in the water were, respectively, 2.4 times and 42 times higher than the standard allows, Lu said.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, a non-governmental organization based in Beijing, told China Daily yesterday that pollution levels in the Yellow River had been a hot topic for many years.
Between the 1980s and 2005, the volume of wastewater flowing into the river increased from about 2 billion tons to 4.3 billion tons. It now accounts for about one-tenth of its total volume, Ma said.
Many sections of the Yellow River are home to industrial enterprises, which are resource-intensive and produce large amounts of sewage.
The Xinhua News Agency said yesterday that a host of coal mining and chemical industries were currently under construction along an 800-km stretch of the river between Yinchuan and Hohhot. The total cost of the projects is 400 billion yuan (US$52 billion).
In Baiyin, Gansu Province, where metallurgy is a pillar industry, some 20 million tons of industrial sewage are released into the Yellow River every year.
Figures released in April showed that the level of heavy metals in the Baiyin section of the river was many times higher than the accepted safe level.
Wang Mingzhi, who lives in the area, told CCTV: "Many of our 11-year-old children have no hair and bad teeth. Heavy metals in the water are very harmful to people's heath."
Despite the government building more treatment plants, Ma said that closer monitoring was needed to ensure rules were implemented.
"For companies that pollute, it is cheaper to break the law and pay the fine than it is to abide by the rules.
"The river's only hope is for the law to be more strictly applied and for the public to join in the fight to protect it," Ma said.
(China Daily May 11, 2007)