Nearly 20 percent of China’s arable land is polluted, according to a recent government report—double the level previously thought. Officials are concerned about the health ramifications of soil contaminated by cadmium, one of the most pervasive of the pollutants: A heavy metal, cadmium is toxic to humans, causing skeletal and kidney damage. Southern China has suffered the worst of this ground pollution, with cadmium levels rising by over 50 percent during the last 60 years. This is a major human health concern: Rice grown in contaminated areas could pose risks to those who consume it. Worse, as Caixin reports, there’s very little the government can do to leach these pollutants from the soil:
“Once soil has been polluted, it’s very difficult to restore it by cutting off pollution sources alone,” the report said. “Overall, the costs for cleaning up polluted soil are high. It takes a long time. And it’s very difficult.”The report continued: “Because it’s hard for heavy metals to degrade, it’s impossible to completely remove heavy metals from the soil. Many organic pollutants in the soil need a long time to fully degrade.”
And it’s not just cadmium that has officials worried:
In addition to cadmium, samples were found to have various amounts of mercury, arsenic, copper, lead, chromium, zinc and nickel. Cadmium was the most prevalent toxin, found in 7 percent of all samples. Nickel, the second-most common pollutant, was detected in 4.8 percent of the samples. Arsenic was third, found in 2.7 percent of the soil plugs studied.
These pollutants found their way into Chinese soil through a variety of vectors. Some precipitated out of China’s toxic smog, while others came from industrial wastewater. Tailpipe emissions from China’s ever-growing fleet of autos also aren’t helping things.Like air pollution, soil pollution is in many ways the downside of China’s unrestricted growth. But unlike air pollution, soil pollution doesn’t dissipate when cars are taken off the road or coal-fired factories are replaced by nuclear reactors. This is a nightmarish problem, and it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.