China’s top environmental authority said that over two-thirds of companies on the government’s pollution watchlist risk contaminating the country’s soil, domestic media Caixin reported Monday.
About 70% of the 15,000 companies were found to be not adequately equipped to prevent toxic chemicals from leaking into the soil or not doing enough to prevent them, Caixin reported, citing the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. The ministry had conducted a national screening of soil pollution risks from industrial sectors last year.
Su Kejing, head of soil ecology at the ministry, said many companies were not fully aware of their environmental duties and local governments are now supervising corrective measures for the companies in question.
Rapid urbanization with limited environmental accountability has left a legacy of contamination in China over the past decades.
An estimated 12 million tons of the country’s annual produce is said to be polluted by heavy metals in the soil, mainly with residues from industrial runoff and animal feed, according to research led by the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2020. Pollution is worse in the south of China than in the north, particularly in rice paddies in the central Hunan province, eastern Jiangxi province, and Guangdong province in the south.
China launched an action plan in 2016 to tackle soil pollution, vowing to remediate 90% of the polluted land by 2020. In 2018, the country also adopted a law on soil pollution, with the Ministry of Ecology and Environment as the overseeing authority on soil decontamination efforts.
The law made it mandatory for local governments to regularly publish a list of polluting businesses that are required to self-monitor and report their pollution data to the authorities.
However, progress on soil decontamination has not been fast enough to fully address the issue. Last year, a study published by researchers from Zhejiang University found that legacies from industrial activities — including those in southwestern China, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Pearl River Delta — were polluting the soil with heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, and zinc among others.
Children were particularly vulnerable to potential health risks from the exposure to polluted soil, according to the study.
In 2021, Chinese artist Nut Brother staged a series of performances in the country’s post-industrial regions to document the lasting environmental trauma and call for more awareness on the issue.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: VCG)