2017-07-11 08:55:56

The Yangtze River, China’s longest waterway, is being polluted by waste water from hospitals, factories, and other sources, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Along with its connected lakes and tributaries, the river, which flows from China’s remote northwest past several major cities including Shanghai, is the source of drinking water for about 30 percent of the country’s population. However, human activity also poses a great threat to its water quality.

In May 2016, the ministry initiated a project to restore the quality of urban drinking water by policing illegal sources of pollution in what it calls the “Yangtze economic zone.” However, a notice from the ministry sent out on Sunday and seen by Sixth Tone listed more than 100 remaining pollution problems in some 40 localities. Most are in the southwestern provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan, parts of which are relatively underdeveloped.

Near Zunyi in Guizhou, for example, a sewage outlet from the Rehabilitation Hospital at Zunyi Medical University was found near the Zhongqiao Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to the city of 1 million residents. Bed sheets, quilt covers, scrubs, and other hospital supplies are cleaned at the facility’s washing center every day, and the waste water is released untreated.

When the ministry’s project first started in 2016, 490 sources of drinking water pollution were found in 126 cities around the country. Nearly 80 percent of those have since been resolved, and the ministry expects the remaining problems to be addressed by the end of this year. An official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection stated in March that 90 percent of China’s urban drinking water is above national standards.

“In general, the quality of the Yangtze River’s drinking water has improved,” Deng Tingting, a toxicity campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, told Sixth Tone — though she warned that in some regions, such as Sichuan, quality is declining. “Because of the rapid economic development in the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze, the pollution is moving upriver,” Deng said.

While the ministry’s cleanup focuses on sources of urban drinking water, Deng also warns that the water quality for rural regions is a bigger problem that will need to be tackled in the future. A 2016 inspection by China’s National Audit Office of drinking water supplying both urban and rural areas showed that 53 percent of random samples failed to reach national standards.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A culvert discharges sewage into the Yangtze River in Yichang, Hubei province, May 21, 2015. Jin He/VCG)