The Fruits of Civilization (65-3-3) China’s Soil Quality

 Soil Quality

Even before the severe environmental damage, cropland per person in China was less than 1 hectare, barely half the world average.

~20% of China’s land is severely damaged by erosion, resulting in soil loss of 4.5 billion tonnes each year. Deforestation has been the major contributor to soil erosion. The loss has been especially devastating in the middle stretch of the Yellow River and on the Yangtze River.

Salinization has affected 9% of China’s soils, mainly due to poor management of irrigation systems in dry areas.

Desertification affects more than 25% of China, thanks to overgrazing and agriculture in areas where it was practiced in an unsustainable manner. North China has been most severely affected.

Soil fertility has drastically declined in China, owing to the oppressive use of fertilizers and intensive pesticide application. Soil-renewing earthworms simply cannot survive the onslaught.

Over 16% of China’s soil is heavily polluted. 20% of its farmland is laden with toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

A survey of rice served in restaurants in north China found 44% of it had dangerous levels of cadmium. Cadmium is extremely toxic: a potent carcinogen and endocrine disruptor which accumulates in the kidneys and liver.

Soil contaminated with heavy metals is eroding the foundation of the country’s food safety and becoming a looming public health hazard. ~ the state-run China Daily newspaper in 2013

Hunan province, in the central southeast of the country, is China’s rice bowl. It is also one of China’s top producers of nonferrous metals. Hence, Hunan leads the nation in chemical pollution, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead, all of which are dumped into rivers as industrial effluent.

Spillage of toxic chemicals onto land near factories and into rivers is common throughout China. Environmental protection is practically nonexistent.

Before the factories were built, there were just fields here as far as the eye can see. In the place of this radioactive sludge, there were watermelons, eggplant, and tomatoes. ~ Chinese farmer Li Guirong, surveying a strip mine

Because of Chinese waste practices, grotesque quantities of trash are dumped in open fields, polluting soil and consuming cropland. China’s cities are surrounded by mountains of refuse.

Further, the US, Canada, and European countries have been paying China to take their untreated garbage, including wastes with toxic chemicals. In 2013, the national government issued an edict to put a stop to it; a campaign that has not been especially successful.

Other countries, including India and Thailand, ship their electronic wastes to China for recycling and disposal. 70% of the world’s discarded electronic devices end up in China: over 450 million tonnes annually.

Much garbage makes its way out to sea. China is by far the greatest source of plastics in the oceans.

The alternative to vast landfills is waste incinerators. A government push toward incinerators has been met with violent protests by citizens who fear attendant air pollution.

With increasing urbanization throughout the country, many polluting industries have relocated to peripheral areas. They leave behind brownfields: heavily contaminated sites.

Soil concentrations of heavy metals and organic pollutants on brownfields can be hundreds of times safe exposure limits. Seepage guarantees groundwater toxicity.

Hundreds of thousands of factories have been torn down to make way for housing and commercial centers. New construction goes up without first cleaning up these brownfields. The result has been dire sickness and early death for residents on these sites, who are not told that they are living on toxic land.

Even limited exposure can be dangerous. Construction workers building homes at former pesticide factories in Beijing and Wuhan had to be hospitalized.