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Water Pollution and Healthy Risk in China
China has accomplished a remarkable transformation over the past half-century. China used to be one of the world’s poorest countries, but it has seen sharp increases in productivity and wages that make it become the second-largest economy. China’s rapid and sustained growth since the start of its economic reforms in the late 1970s, but in recent years, growth is slowing in China. The developing economies of China are faced by serious environmental problems that threaten to future growth. Even at the beginning of China’s economic reform in the 1980s, Chinese cities already suffered from heavy industry. But after the 1980s as the new economic development strategy launched, the pollution problems had become acute by the 21st century. One of the important pollutions is water pollution and there are more than 50,000 rivers in China. And most of the rivers are in the eastern and southern area. The relationship between water pollution and economic development is closely related, and economic development is not the only factor of water pollution. As for time changes, China’s water quality is difficult to improve in the current economic growth and urbanization.
The Problems of Water Pollution
Water is people’s source of life; China is having problem with shortages of water resources. China’s total water resources rank fourth in the world; however, per capita water supply is only a quarter of the world’s average. So, one of the important challenges China faced is the water pollution problem. Most of the polluted prefecture-level cities are traditional industrial centers with developed economies and large urban population. With the increase of urban population, industrial and agricultural water use and the amount of water needed for life is also increasing. From figure 1, the statistic displays the average volume of river plastic mass inputs into oceans around the world as of 2017. The Yangtze River in China had an estimated annual input amounting to 333,000 metric tons of plastic. The river from China has the largest number of plastic mass inputs to the ocean and the plastic can take 500 years to biodegrade in the ocean (maybe longer). There are severe reasons caused the water pollution. First, the uneven distribution of water resources, regional differences in water pollution in China are obvious. And the water pollution is more serious in north and northeast China. Second, with the development of industry and agriculture, the increasing population and the demand for higher living standards, water consumption in China has been increasing steadily. At the same time, wastewater discharges have also increased greatly. China’s rapid industrialization has led to a severe deterioration in water quality in the country’s lakes and rivers, and water pollution becomes one of the most important environmental problems in China. The cost of industrial pollution is the reflection on millions of Chinese farmers who are unable to access safe drinking water. Third, the heavy metals problem that can lead the water shortage problem become more serious. High levels of metal pollution are associated with anthropogenic and physical environments, particularly due to industrial prosperity and abundant mineral resources. Heavy metal pollution in water bodies poses long-term human health risks, which have a major impact on China’s economic development and limit environmental sustainability.
Sources: Nature. Annual river plastic mass inputs to oceans as of 2017 (in 1,000 metric tons) *.
Specific People Influenced by Water Pollution
In the city, people see air pollution every day, so it puts tremendous pressure on the public. But in cities, people don’t see how serious water pollution is. China grades its water in five categories. Grade III and above is believed safe for direct human contact, while grades four and five can only be used in industry and agriculture. Water worse than Grade V has lost all functionally. According to figure 2, the data show the water quality distribution of surface water in China in 2016. In that year, about 37.5% of China’s surface water was classified as secondary, mainly as drinking water, and belonged to China’s surface water source primary protection zone.
Sources: Ministry of Environmental Protection (China). “Distribution of surface water in China in 2016, by water quality”
A large number of rural citizens influenced by water pollution in China. According to the reports, Half of the Chinese population cannot obtain safe human consumption of water, two-thirds of China’s rural population depend on contaminated water —more than 500 million people— Use water contaminated with human and industrial waste. Therefore, it is not surprising that gastrointestinal cancer is now the number one killer in the countryside. China’s water supply has been contaminated by human and industrial waste. The greater problems are groundwater in 90 percent of China’s cities is contaminated. Although thousands of sources of pollution are closed, one-third of the waterways are still well below government water quality standards. Most rural areas in China lack systems for treating wastewater. China has some of the world’s most serious water pollution. All lakes and rivers in China are polluted to some extent. According to a report by the Chinese government, 70% of rivers, lakes and waterways are heavily polluted, many rivers, lakes and waterways are heavily polluted, no fish, and 78% of Chinese river water is not suitable for human consumption. The rural citizen must use and drink polluted water that is why rural people get more illness than the urban citizen.
Also, water pollution-associated differences in health outcomes related to income, with a greater relative risk for low-income individuals. High-income individuals were more capable of compensating for increased pollution by reducing their exposure to protect their health, which likely contributed to the observation that their health outcomes were less influenced by water pollution. The rich have a greater chance to live in areas with better water quality and make other health capital investments.
The most important is water pollution impact people’s health. Relying on unprotected untreated water sources exposes residents to chemical pollution risks from neighboring industries, which is widespread and serious in China. The study showed that drinking water contaminants such as nitrate/nitrite and chromium are major risk factors for digestive cancers (for example, gastric cancer, liver cancer, esophageal cancer, and colorectal cancer). These cancers have the highest mortality rates among malignant tumors in China, with 73 cases per 100,000 people in 2005.And the exposure to arsenic in drinking water may affect children’s intelligence and growth. As early as the 1970s, the scholar carried out studies in 4 counties of the Jiangsu province with a high incidence of liver cancer. It was found that liver cancer prevalence was associated with drinking water contamination. Also, contaminants can upset the food chain and heavy metals, especially iron, which can affect the fish’s respiratory system. Iron is found in fish gills, which are fatal to fish when they are eaten by humans causing major health problems. Metal-contaminated water can cause hair loss, liver cirrhosis, kidney failure and neurological disorders.
Northern Part of China Influenced by Water Pollution
Water pollution and shortages are more serious problems in northern China than in southern China. In the north, water scarcity has been a perennial problem that is now being exacerbated by rising demand and many years of dreadful pollution. In northern China, the proportion of water that is considered unsuitable for human consumption is 45%, compared with 10% in southern China. About 80% of the rivers in northern Shanxi Province were rated as “not suitable for human contact.” The level of water pollution in major cities in northern China is also very high. In Beijing, 39.9% of the water is contaminated and basically has no function. Tianjin is a major port city in northern China with a population of 15 million and only 4.9% of water is used as a source of drinking water. Due to industrial and agricultural pollution, more than 80% of the water in the densely populated plains of China, factories and homes is not suitable for drinking or bathing.
The nationwide standards for the treatment of wastewater are also far from sufficient. Although there have been some improvements in recent years, water used in wastewater, household, commercial or industrial processes may now contain hazardous substances, remains a major pollution source, particularly in the urban center. The untreated wastewater was discharged across China, the water that has been ruled unusable for agricultural, industrial purposes dumped into rivers and lakes. In China, access to drinking water is not just a matter of quality of life, but a question of survival. From Figure 3, the statistics show that the groundwater quality of various river basins in China in 2016 is calculated according to the quality level. In that year, about 72% of the groundwater in China’s Songhua River was quite poor, and about 13% of the groundwater was of good quality. Songhua River and Yellow River both belong to the northern part of China, however, the groundwater quality in these areas are really bad. The Yellow River is the second longest river in China. The Yellow River is an important river for making northern China inhabitable and lots of people rely on it.
Sources: Ministry of Environmental Protection (China). “Groundwater quality in each drainage area in China in 2016, by quality level.”
The Movement from the Chinese Government
Despite an increase in management of water pollution in recent years, the overall degradation of China’s water problems continues. The government needs to put lots of money on wastewater treatment. The government provides the motivation for environmental standards on China’s industrial firms. And all the developing countries should design the environmental policy that balances the interests of industry and the health risk of industrial waste.
Although China has many legal and policy tools, and environmental officials across the country are widespread, compliance with regulations seems to be poor. The main reason is that other sectors and local governments pay more attention to traditionally measured economic growth and job maintenance or expansion. Increase in per capita income, increase in tax revenue, and increase in employment opportunities take precedence over environmental protection. The idea of sustainable growth has not taken root with the authority of most provinces, cities and counties in maintaining economic capacity to provide better living standards for young people today and in future generations. Because of the greater strength and influence of the development ministries such as the National Development and Reform Commission compared with the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. In addition, another reason is the weakness of the law and the ineffectiveness of central government enforcement. The quality of decision-making by local Chinese officials is poor, which is related to education failure and knowledge of environmental issues.
The Chinese government uses the method of increasing water supplies in the north by channeling them by canal from the south. The project called South-North Water Transfer Project and it has three routes. The eastern route, the central route, and the western route. However, China needs to do more to reduce consumptions of water. Because the project requires a lot of electricity, it means that the government needs to invest a lot of money to make the project go smoothly.
Learning from European Experience
The conflict between environmental protection and economic development is not unique to China. Historically, most developed countries in Western Europe have experienced rapid resource consumption in the process of industrialization, and resources come from domestic or imported. Over the past half century, Europe has had a wealth of experience in dealing with water environmental protection. The water pollution policy is one of the earliest environmental policy areas developed at the European community level. A great deal of research experience can be gained by studying the experience of the European Union, especially in achieving a balance between the water environment and economic development. EU institutions can pass legislation and be legally binding on member states without further review or permission by national institutions. Europe’s experience in charging sewage is very extensive and comprehensive. In the 1960s, France imposed water charges on certain industrial polluters and the Federal Republic of Germany passed an Effluent Charge Law in 1976. These case studies provided definitive pollution taxation programs of their time and were emulated across Europe. It can be learned for China; the spread of pollution taxes is partly practical. Pollution taxes and other fees can provide a valuable source of income to cover the costs of cleanup, water treatment and monitoring. Also, Groundwater pollution also poses a threat to European countries. Artificial groundwater recharge is an effective technique for increasing groundwater resources. Since the 19th century, artificial water replenishment has been used in Europe, where surface water has been treated and injected into the ground to increase the water table. China is approaching the crossroads and key stages of water pollution prevention and control. The growing demand to ensure sustained socio-economic development and the pressure on water environmental protection and control needs are increasing dramatically. China can learn from Europe and based on the experience of Europe, it is possible to protect the surface and groundwaters while allowing industrial growth.
The increasing water pollution problems in China is a big issue in recent decades. China’s water scarcity is characterized by both insufficient quantities of water as well as deteriorating water quality. People suffered from water pollution challenge in all parts of the country, especially the rural population and lower income citizen in China. The Chinese government made some laws and strategies to protect the water resources, but it still getting worse in recent years. China’s environmental problems and the success of pollution control can have a global impact. With the development of urbanization and industrialization, water pollution is increasing. Therefore, any strict industrialization restrictions based on environmental pollution considerations are unlikely to succeed without considering the effects of industrial output. A summary of past achievements and lessons learned, as well as current water pollution issues, should provide the basis for future improvements in China.
- Han, Qiuying, Xiaoping Huang, Qianguo Xing, and Ping Shi. “A Review of Environment Problems in the Coastal Sea of South China.” Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management 15, no. 2 (2012): 108-17. doi:10.1080/14634988.2012.687611.
- Hays, Jeffrey. “WATER POLLUTION IN CHINA.” Facts and Details. Accessed December 08, 2018. http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat10/sub66/item391.html.
- Li, Xin, and Yanli Qiao. “Environment Problems of City Development in China.” Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection 03, no. 05 (2015): 104-10. doi:10.4236/gep.2015.35012.
- Lu, Wen-Qing, Shao-Hua Xie, Wen-Shan Zhou, Shao-Hui Zhang, and Ai-Lin Liu. “Water Pollution and Health Impact in China: A Mini Review.” Open Environmental Sciences 2, no. 1 (2008): 1-5. doi:10.2174/1876325100802010001.
- MacBean, Alasdair. “China’s Environment: Problems and Policies.” World Economy 30, no. 2 (2007): 292-307. doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9701.2007.00883.
- Ministry of Environmental Protection (China). Distribution of surface water in China in 2016, by water quality. https://www.statista.com/statistics/862517/china-share-of-surface-water-by-quality/ (accessed 12/8/18, 11:54 PM).
- Ministry of Environmental Protection (China). “Groundwater quality in each drainage area in China in 2016, by quality level.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/862546/china-share-of-groundwater-quality-by-area/ (accessed 12/9/18, 12:20 AM).
- Nature. Annual river plastic mass inputs to oceans as of 2017 (in 1,000 metric tons)*. https://www.statista.com/statistics/829695/river-plastic-mass-inputs-to-oceans/ (accessed 12/9/18, 6:38 AM).
- Wang, Qing, and Zhiming Yang. “Industrial Water Pollution, Water Environment Treatment, and Health Risks in China.” Environmental Pollution 218 (2016): 358-65. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2016.07.011.
- Zhou, Yun, Soon-Thiam Khu, Beidou Xi, Jing Su, Fanghua Hao, Jieyun Wu, and Shouliang Huo. “Status and Challenges of Water Pollution Problems in China: Learning from the European Experience.” Environmental Earth Sciences 72, no. 4 (2014): 1243-254. doi:10.1007/s12665-013-3042-3.
 Alasdair MacBean. “China’s Environment: Problems and Policies.” World Economy 30, no. 2 (2007): 292-307. doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9701.2007.00883.
 Nature. “Annual river plastic mass inputs to oceans as of 2017 (in 1,000 metric tons) *.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/829695/river-plastic-mass-inputs-to-oceans/ (accessed 12/9/18, 6:38 AM).
 Qiuying Han, Xiaoping Huang, Qianguo Xing, and Ping Shi. “A Review of Environment Problems in the Coastal Sea of South China.” Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management 15, no. 2 (2012): 108-17. doi:10.1080/14634988.2012.687611.
 Ministry of Environmental Protection (China). “Distribution of surface water in China in 2016, by water quality.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/862517/china-share-of-surface-water-by-quality/ (accessed 12/8/18, 11:54 PM).
 Jeffrey Hays. “WATER POLLUTION IN CHINA.” Facts and Details. Accessed December 08, 2018. http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat10/sub66/item391.html.
 Qing Wang, and Zhiming Yang. “Industrial Water Pollution, Water Environment Treatment, and Health Risks in China.” Environmental Pollution 218 (2016): 358-65. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2016.07.011.
 Wen-Qing Lu, Shao-Hua Xie, Wen-Shan Zhou, Shao-Hui Zhang, and Ai-Lin Liu. “Water Pollution and Health Impact in China: A Mini Review.” Open Environmental Sciences 2, no. 1 (2008): 1-5. doi:10.2174/1876325100802010001.
 Xin Li, and Yanli Qiao. “Environment Problems of City Development in China.” Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection 03, no. 05 (2015): 104-10. doi:10.4236/gep.2015.35012.
 Ministry of Environmental Protection (China). “Groundwater quality in each drainage area in China in 2016, by quality level.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/862546/china-share-of-groundwater-quality-by-area/ (accessed 12/9/18, 12:20 AM).
 Alasdair MacBean. “China’s Environment: Problems and Policies.” World Economy 30, no. 2 (2007): 292-307. doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9701.2007.00883.
 NDRC is a macroeconomic management agency under the Chinese State Council, which has broad administrative and planning control over the Chinese economy.
 MEE is an environmental protection department charged with the task of protecting China’s air, water, and land from pollution and contamination.
 Yun Zhou, Soon-Thiam Khu, Beidou Xi, Jing Su, Fanghua Hao, Jieyun Wu, and Shouliang Huo. “Status and Challenges of Water Pollution Problems in China: Learning from the European Experience.” Environmental Earth Sciences 72, no. 4 (2014): 1243-254. doi:10.1007/s12665-013-3042-3.
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