Three Gorges Probe

City water vulnerable to ‘cancerous’ river

Shanghai Daily
November 1, 1999

Experts warned yesterday that the Yangtze River has become so “cancerous” with pollution that it is threatening the safety of drinking water in Shanghai and other cities along its banks. The effluents in some sections of China’s longest river are getting worse, and the Yangtze will become as filthy as the Yellow and Haihe rivers in five to 10 years if action isn’t taken soon, said Lu Jianjian, a professor at East China Normal University. The pollution presents a special challenge to Shanghai because the Yangtze is the city’s main source of drinking water, said Lu, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top advisory body. Other cities along the river face similar drinking-water risks, experts said. More than 500 water pumping stations are located on the Yangtze’s banks, and some had to be moved midstream because of worsening pollution near the river’s edges. Lu said the Yangtze absorbs more than 40 percent of the country’s wastewater, about 25 billion tons a year, and that more than 80 percent of the wastes entering the river are untreated. Yuan Aiguo, a professor at the China University of Geosciences, urged authorities along the river to pay more attention to the problem. “Many officials think the pollution is nothing for the Yangtze, which has a large water flow and a capability for self-cleansing, but the pollution is very serious,” Yuan said. Just 31 percent of the water meets first- or second-class quality standards. Yuan warned that without new steps to curb pollution, 70 percent of the river’s water could rate below third class in three to five years. Liu Guangzhao, a Chinese-Australian scientist, said that if 70 percent of the water drops to fourth or fifth class, many plant species will disappear and the Yangtze will become a dead river. Professor Lu said that 126 animal species lived in the Yangtze in the mid-1980s, but the number dropped to 52 by 2002 due to the pollution. Environmentalists believe there are three major reasons for the worsening situation: industrial wastewater and sewage, agricultural pollution and wastes from shipping. Of the 16.75 billion tons of wastewater that flowed into the Yangtze in 2004, industrial waste accounted for 7.66 billion tons and domestic wastewater 9.09 billion tons. Experts estimated that chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural wastes accounted for one-third of the pollution. Every year about 210,000 ships run on the river, discharging 360 million tons of oil-contaminated effluents and sewage in addition to 75,000 tons of other wastes. Little progress has been made despite the construction of more than 170 wastewater treatment plants, experts said. Xinhua

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