Soil pollution hits alarming level

Updated 2016-11-22 08:51:49 Global Times

Contamination poses threat to economy, public health

Soil pollution has reached alarming levels in China, and will cause enormous economic losses and affect the health of people for generations, experts warned.

China's arable land is shrinking due to soil pollution and is bringing huge economic losses to a country already short of farmland. China has 22 percent of the world's population but only 9 percent of the planet's arable land, Gao Guilin, a law professor at Beijing's Capital University of Economics and Business, said at a forum held on Sunday, news site legaldaily.cn reported on Sunday.

Gao cited statistics released by China's Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2013 that 12 million tons of China's crops are polluted by soil contaminated with heavy metals annually, which would cause a yearly loss of 20 billion yuan (.9 billion).

Soil pollution also poses a great threat to public health as pollutants, including heavy metals, pesticides and agricultural antibiotics, and severely affect the quality of crops, according to Gao.

In 2013, the Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration revealed that among the 18 batches of rice tested during random quarterly checks, eight were found to contain excessive amounts of heavy metal, which is known as a strong carcinogen and can cause pathological changes in kidney and other organs.

Once introduced, the pollutants will remain in the soil for centuries. Polluted soil interacts with other natural resources causing water and air pollution, which spreads the substances more widely and increases the cost of pollution control, Sheng Guangyao, a research fellow at the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.

The government neglected the soil contamination issue for years until it posed a threat to the economy and people's health, said Sheng.

Gao said preserving protected arable land should be a key regulatory priority, surveillance of land should be enhanced, and cleaning up should be done as soon as pollution is detected.

According to latest figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources, about 16.1 percent of China's surveyed land is polluted by heavy metals including cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury.

Last year, the central government allocated 2.8 billion yuan for anti-pollution projects in 30 prefecture-level cities, but experts said it is far from enough.

Gao Chengda, a forestry expert at the Chinese Academy of Forestry, told the Global Times on Monday that "combating contamination is a very complicated issue which will take generations to solve" and that it is not easy to simply shut down the factories, which are the major reason for the pollution.

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