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A tenth of Chinese farmland polluted by heavy metals
By Iain Thomson, Register, 8th November 2011

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/08/tenth_chinese_farmland_polluted/

A new report on environmental pollution in China has shown that around ten per cent of the country’s farmland is heavily contaminated with lead, zinc, and other heavy metals.

China's Southern Metropolitan Daily reports that Wan Bentai, the chief engineer for China's Ministry of Environmental Protection, said that "in total about 10 percent of farmland has striking problems of heavy metal levels exceeding (government) limits," according to Reuters. "In recent years, there have constantly been outbreaks of heavy metal pollution, and from January to February alone there were 11 incidents, nine involving lead," he told a conference in Guangzhou, one of China's largest cities.

The pollution comes from industrial processing plants flouting environmental guidelines, with the electronics industry a prime culprit. While a few of the Middle Kingdom’s factories are as green as anything in the West, the vast majority use dirty and outdated processes and rely on poor enforcement of environmental standards.

The problem is even worse when it comes to the processing of electronic waste. According to UN figures, cited by Greenpeace, the world produces around 20-25 million tons of e-waste every year, and China, India, and increasingly Africa are being used as dumping grounds, or are buying the scrap directly. Some of the material is processed to extract valuable metals in a way that is highly toxic to both the processors themselves and the wider community.

“Most of our focus on the recycling has not been on recycling plants per se (which would exist primarily in the developed economies - Japan, EU and North America) but on the informal recycling (often nothing more than open burning) in places like China, India, Pakistan, and increasingly, West Africa (Ghana, Nigeria),” Casey Harrell from Greenpeace told The Register in an email message.