Illegal Dumping, Toxic Sewage Pits Plaguing China

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By Michael Standaert

Recent incidents in China of illegal hazardous-waste dumping and the discovery of massive toxic waste-filled pits have highlighted the country’s enforcement problems related to industrial waste.

Those problems come on top of the soaring economic burdens of dealing with accumulating trash: China pledged earlier this year to devote $37 billion to deal with growing amounts of residential waste through 2020 through landfills, incineration, recycling and sorting.

In the most recent incident, a criminal gang illegally dumped 40 metric tons of sulfuric acid into the Le’an River in Jiangxi province on five separate occasions in April, seriously polluting the river and nearby environment, state-run broadcaster CCTV reported May 2.

And last month, an environmental group exposed the existence of 20 large ponds full of untreated industrial wastewater in Hebei province and Tianjin municipality, with a water surface area totaling around 300,000 square meters (3.2 million square feet). The revelation prompted a large-scale investigation by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), which is seeking a remediation plan by the end of July.

‘Manifestation of the Problematic System’

“These two cases are just the manifestation of the problematic system, the lack of a sewage treatment systems, the lack of local enforcement, and insufficient hazardous waste treatment capacity,” Ada Kong, toxics campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, told Bloomberg BNA. “The government should fix the whole system in order to effectively solve the problem.”

In the Le’an River case, the gang doing the illegal dumping was paid between 800 and 1000 yuan [$115 to $145] for each time they dumped the sulfuric acid, far below the average cost of treatment per ton through proper channels, according to the CCTV report.

The MEP said local governments had known about the toxic waste pits in Hebei and Tianjin for at least four years and had started cleanup on 18 of them, though it also ordered those governments to come up with full remediation plans by the end of July.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Standaert in Shenzhen, China, at

To contact the editor on this story: Greg Henderson at

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