Housing built on toxic lands

By Xu Lin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 7, 2012
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The cover of Caijing Magazine, Vol. 14, 2012

Nobody wants to live next to a toxic waste dump. But for many residents of Chinese cities, there is a possibility that they are living on land previously damaged by harmful industrial pollutants, Caijing magazine reports.

A great number of heavy-polluted industrial enterprises have been moved out of the central areas of Chinese cities. However, the toxic lands that these companies left behind have been turned into residential developments, bringing an ever-increasing threat of poisoning.

Land previously used to store toxic chemicals is especially harmful, since the chemicals can leak into soil and ground water, creating a severe environmental hazard.

In recent years, urban land use restructuring programs vacated massive plots of toxic land, which later became residential areas. Many of sites hadn’t been treated to reduce the harmful effects before being redeveloped.

According to data provided by Professor Luo Yongming from the Institute of Soil Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, by 2008, a few thousand polluting enterprises had been moved out from the central areas of Jiangsu Province, Liaoning Province, Guangzhou City and Chongqing Municipality, and more than 20,000 hectares of industrial land was used for residential buildings.

Since 2004, a number of poisoning incidents have happened in China.

In April 2004, three workers were poisoned at the construction site of the Songjiazhuang Subway Station in Beijing. The land used to belong to a pesticide factory.

In July 2006, 20 mu (1.3 hectares) of land was vacated after a chemical factory was moved away from the South Ring Road in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

Before the Spring Festival in 2007, some workers were poisoned at a construction site in Heshan, Wuhan City, Hubei Province and later sent to the hospital. The land used to belong to the Wuhan Pesticide Factory.

To date, only a few toxic sites have been exposed to the public; there are still a great number of polluted sites that still threaten people’s health. The damaging effects of the land pollution may not show up for years or even tens of years, leaving many residents exposed.

The Love Canal neighborhood in the U.S. state of New York was originally used to bury toxic waste, and it was later filled and developed into a residential area in 1953. However, 24 years later, a large number of residents started to suffer from miscarriages, abnormalities and epilepsy. The cause of the problem was finally realized after investigation, and later became a U.S. Superfund site.

An insider pointed out that there are tens of thousands of polluted areas across the country, but only a small number of them have been identified and treated.

Because the costs for treatment can be extremely expensive and publicizing the information may cause panic, there are currently no regulations for compulsory evaluation of contamination risk before enterprises are moved off a site. Also there is currently no specific rule on who should be responsible for pollution treatment.

From 2001 to 2005, a total of 142 factories were moved out of central Beijing, leaving 8.78 million square meters of reusable land. According to Li Jingdong from the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, only a dozen pieces of the land are known to be polluted, and only eight sites have been treated.

The release of toxic chemicals into the soil can last for a hundred years, not to mention the consequence of groundwater pollution. The influence and harm from untreated soil could last for a few hundred years or even longer. The later the treatment is processed, the more costs we will have to pay, both financially and with people’s lives.

Therefore, we must urgently carry out a thorough investigation on the existing and newly-added toxic land sites across the whole country, measuring the size of the affected area, degree of pollution, process of treatment and feasibility for reuse. To solve the potential problems, legislation and economic and environmental treatment measures must be taken as soon as possible.

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