Don’t drink the water

This may be the most depressing, distressing article I’ve seen yet on the horrors of life in villages decimated by businesses’ casual rape of the environment.

Zhang Guanghui, an 11-year-old orphan, rises from the kang, a heated brick bed that he shares with an older cousin. He scurries through his barren four-room concrete home, washing his face and hands, brushing his teeth, and preparing food.

At the center of all his actions is dirty water that he pumps from a well beneath the home. The untreated water was never purged of the toxins that almost certainly killed his mother, severely stunted his growth, and left at least 500 people in this farming community of 1,000 families in northeast China ill and desperate. Still, he drinks the water – which develops an oily film just seconds after it’s pumped.

Inside the house, where Zhang and his cousin live alone, the logo of the Jing Quan rice-wine factory down the road is printed on transparent tape that seals plastic on windows and covers the kang. That factory is where Zhang’s mother worked for three months in 2002, etching bottles by dipping them into hydrofluoric acid with only rubber gloves for protection.

The same factory dumped ton upon ton of used acid into an unlined pit, court and government documents reveal. The acid seeped into the village’s groundwater, poisoning the wells of hundreds of families.

If there’s any light at the end of this bleak tunnel, it’s that the villagers are at least trying to change the situation. But the article makes clear they are fighting an uphill battle in a country where local officials have no incentive to help their citizens and where all the talk of dedication to fixing the environment amounts to just about nothing for the disenfranchised living outside of the big cities. We see the most action when the environmental crisis occurs in a big city, like the recent benzene pollution near Harbin. When it’s out of sight and out of mind, ruining the lives of little people outside of the cities, no one seems to care.

Thanks to the reader who emailed me the link.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

I think Beijing wants to see things like this remedied, but they lack the power to accomplish this. Beijing seems unable to check the corruption of the local officials in rural areas and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.

June 25, 2006 @ 8:50 pm | Comment

No disagreement there – Beijing badly wants to fix this nightmare, if only because disasters like this lead to peasant unrest and instability. But when the officials on the scene actually profit from the misery, it’s hard to effect change. This goes back to the nature of today’s party system, which practically guarantees corruption at the local level and an impotent central authority in Beijing.

June 25, 2006 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

Having worked in the steel, specifically the metal finishing industry, I have had a lot of experience in environmental issues. At least from the “industry side” of things.
As late as 1991 there were companies (large) still diggin holes on their land and dumping things. Most people believe that this stopped happening in the 80’s.
The problem initially was blamed on “ignorance” of the dangers. That was total BS. Not a single conscientious worker ever dumped, drained, or buried industrial waste without “thinking” it was wrong.
They did it either out of fear of losing their job, or for greed. Everyone, bar none, who works in industry since the 1950’s knows these chemicals are dangerous. They all know it is wrong.
If China wants to get rid of this problem, they need to make a whistleblower law. Make some really BIG awards, publicly, when employees report wrongdoing.
This will get rid of the corrupt “middle-man”, or heck, the corrupt “middle-man” might start blowing the whistle too.

June 25, 2006 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.