Quantcast

China’s Toxic School Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Health + Wellness

China woke up to disturbing headlines on the morning of April 18: Nearly 500 children at a middle school in Jiangsu province had fallen sick, with illnesses ranging from bronchitis and eczema, to abnormalities in their blood and thyroid and in a few chilling cases, leukemia. The cause was highly suspected to be due to the fact that their new school campus was adjacent to the sites of three former chemical plants.

The soil and groundwater surrounding Changzhou Foreign Languages School was polluted with a highly toxic cocktail of industrial chemicals. Photo credit: Imaginechina

The news caused an uproar in China and hit headlines overseas. The story was shocking, but as details emerged, so did an all too familiar story. The soil and groundwater surrounding Changzhou Foreign Languages School was polluted with a highly toxic cocktail of industrial chemicals. Levels of Chlorobenzene, a toxic solvent that has been linked to liver and kidney problems, measured at close to 100,000 times what is considered safe.

A Sickening Status Quo

This is far from an isolated case: Five days after the Changzhou incident was exposed, a chemical factory in the same province was ordered to shut down operations after 20 students fell sick; on the same day, a chemical blaze at a storage facility at the Yangtze River raged for 16 hours. One 26 year old firefighter lost his life and 15,000 nearby residents, not to mention valuable drinking resources, have been left at risk of potential contamination.

For years, people in China’s densely populated east coast have been living in close quarters with polluting industries, especially chemical facilities. We’ve seen the impact that this has had on our air quality, but it’s also having a devastating effect on our soil and water supplies.

Following Changzhou, we investigated other potential "toxic" sites. In Jiangsu alone, we discovered four other sites that had previously housed chemical factories in close proximity to schools, residential areas and office buildings.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Under China’s current chemicals management system, "toxic" sites like the Changzhou Foreign Languages school are ubiquitous and as China’s chemical industry transitions, they are likely to increase.

China’s chemicals management system needs nothing short of a complete overhaul and the first step is transparency.

China has one of the biggest chemicals industries in the world, but it lacks the stringent regulations seen in other countries like the EU and U.S.

Policy makers and chemical companies need to adopt the international practice of having a public database to track the release and transfer of chemicals, such as OECD’s PRTR system. Making this information publicly available will not only allow local authorities to make targeted efforts to protect public health from toxic chemicals, but in the case of an emergency, the firefighters and emergency responders will know exactly what they’re dealing with.

It will also provide the public with the right to know if they are living next door to a potentially dangerous toxic chemical storage facility.

What happened at Changzhou Foreign Languages school was an alarm bell, exposing the dangerous gaps in China’s chemicals management system. Introducing transparency into the system can put measures in place to ensure that incidents like Changzhou go from a routine occurrence to a relic of the past.

Cheng Qian is a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Climate Change to Widen Range of Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes

Should You Worry About Arsenic in Baby Cereal and Drinking Water?

Michigan Official Tried to Manipulate Lead Tests Nearly Eight Years Ago

Why Is This Hormone-Disrupting Pesticide Banned in Europe But Widely Used in the U.S.?

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less
EPA scientists survey aquatic life in Newport, Oregon. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly limit the use of science in agency rulemaking around public health, the The New York Times reports.

Read More Show Less
A timelapse video shows synthetic material and baby fish collected from a plankton sample from a surface slick taken off Hawaii's coast. Honolulu Star-Advertiser / YouTube screenshot

A team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't intend to study plastic pollution when they towed a tiny mesh net through the waters off Hawaii's West Coast. Instead, they wanted to learn more about the habits of larval fish.

Read More Show Less