Clean water in China's southwestern Yunnan province is hard to come by. A persistent drought has already dried up many rivers and dams. As for the water that remains, some of it is undrinkable because of toxic pollution. Last month, environmental group Greenpeace investigated chromium pollution in the province, and says some areas are being severely affected.
When news broke that 5000 tons of toxic hexavalent chromium was illegally dumped in China's Yunnan Province this year, it only showed the tip of the iceberg. Environmental group Greenpeace says the same factory that produced the waste currently has another 140-thousand tons of the toxic chemical, and it's seriously polluting the local water resources.
Greenpeace released a report on Tuesday, titled "Toxic Debt." It says the Yunnan Luliang Chemical Industry is leaving chromium waste-piles like this one in Yunnan's rural areas. When it rains, hexavalent chromium is washed away. It seeps into reservoirs or underground water sources that supply water to thousands of people.
One underground water test-sample contained nearly 250 times more chromium than the safety standard. In nearby farmland, chromium levels in the rice paddy water were 126 times over the limit.
This is bad news for local farmers. Some say their crops have simply stopped growing because of the pollution. Others, like this woman, say the toxin has caused them to develop cancer. In a village near the Luliang dumpsite, 17 residents have reportedly died from cancer in 2009 according to Greenpeace.
[Professor Jia-cheng Wu, Taiwan National Normal University]:
"Chromium is carcinogenic, whether it's the dust, or if it's dissolved in water. When in water, the chemical is very corrosive. If people or cattle drink this water, it will likely corrode their digestive tracks."
Yunnan officials did respond to the illegal dumping that occurred between April and June this year. But with authorities often focused more on economic growth than environmental regulation, unregulated chromium waste sites are likely to stick around for some time. Greenpeace urges Chinese authorities to immediately assess the dozens of sites across China, and establish measures to prevent its exposure to residents.
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