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June, 2013:

Cooling the Arctic is imperative

Cooling the Arctic is imperative

Rainy Britain

The Met Office says we are in for a series of wet summers. Correspondent John Nissen says cooling the Arctic is a priority. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

I read with dismay the announcement from the Met Office meeting that the UK could be in the middle of a cycle of wet summers which could last 10-20 years (Rain, rain won’t go away, 19 June). My dismay is because the Met Office has failed to acknowledge the likely strong influence of the loss of Arctic sea ice on northern hemisphere weather through rapid warming of the Arctic and disruption of jet stream behaviour.

As the chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, I presented this case to the environmental audit committee’s inquiry in early 2012. At first the Met Office rejected our case on the grounds that its models predicted that the sea ice would last for decades. But then we had confirmation of the thinning ice from Cryosat-2 and we had the record sea ice minimum in September 2012. The implications are that the Arctic will continue warming, but even more rapidly. This will further decrease the temperature gradient between the tropics and the Arctic – the gradient which drives the jet stream. So the jet stream will meander even more and get stuck with even greater regularity, bringing weird weather across much of the northern hemisphere, including long spells of wet or dry weather.

Hence, we are not in a cycle of wet summers at all, but in a downward spiral of ever-longer spells of “stuck” weather. How and where the weather will be stuck will not be easily predicted by climate models. Cooling the Arctic is now going to be extremely difficult – yet not impossible with a determined and international effort. It has to be done, in order to save the sea ice and protect the future of agriculture in northern climes.
John Nissen
Chair, Arctic Methane Emergency Group

• The incredible advance in space science and recent super-computer modelling informs us that the significant new factor in the chaotic history of Earth’s weather lies in the probability that chucking the highest volume of widely measured man-made carbon deposits and particulates into the air and oceans is the prime cause of recorded global warming. Modern denialists, for whatever vested or threatened reason, underplay this overriding scientific enlightenment. They still rely on reading the tea-leaf messages in the bottom of the cup.
Dr John Comerford
Horsham, West Sussex

Unjustified criticism of waste disposal

Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am


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Piles of glass bottles are seen at Laputa glass recycling plant in Tuen Mun. The bottles will be recycled as bricks. Photo: Felix Wong

Louise Preston (“Embrace real change to be world leader in waste reduction”, June 7) says the Environmental Protection Department’s “Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022” pursues only engineering projects instead of dealing with waste reduction. This is untrue. Much of our work focuses on waste reduction at source.

We have to deal with 13,500 tonnes of waste at landfills every day. This is made up of 9,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste; 3,400 tonnes of construction waste; 1,000 tonnes of dewatered sludge; and minor items. Of the municipal solid waste, about 3,600 tonnes is food waste, with two-thirds from households.

In the blueprint, we highlighted five programmes including a food wise campaign, food donation and food recycling. In addition, we are also planning to build initially two waste-to-energy treatment facilities to deal with 500 tonnes per day by 2017. Yes, even with these measures in place, this still leaves about 2,700 tonnes per day Hong Kong has to deal with.

Ms Preston calls for 100 per cent food waste reduction, recovery and recycling. This is unrealistic. Even in Taipei, where a per-bag trash collection fee has been implemented since 2000, and there’s mandatory separation of waste and outlets for food waste such as pig feed, less than half of food waste is recycled.

A key lesson from around the world is that waste charging is effective in reducing waste. After we imposed construction waste charging in 2006, the quantity of waste going to landfills dropped by about 60 per cent. We are working with the construction sector to reduce waste further; and the Council for Sustainable Development will soon consult the public on the details of a household waste charging scheme for Hong Kong. We would like to see legislation passed by 2016.

Ms Preston challenges our municipal solid waste recovered-for-recycling rate of 48 per cent – this figure is correct.

Hong Kong needs various types of waste treatment facilities. From the end of this year, when the sludge treatment facility is commissioned, the 1,000 tonnes of sludge per day will be incinerated in a state-of-the-art waste-to-energy plant, thereby dealing with a particularly malodorous form of waste. As noted above, we are planning to build two food waste treatment facilities and looking for sites for more such facilities, and Hong Kong also needs to have a sizable (3,000 tonnes per day) waste-to-energy facility for municipal solid waste.

In addition, we need to extend landfills now to give us room to transform our waste practices.

Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment


Waste disposal

Source URL (retrieved on Jun 21st 2013, 5:47am):

Jakarta tells Singapore to stop ‘acting like a child’ over forest fire smog

Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am



Agence France-Presse in Jakarta

Jakarta tells Singapore to stop complaining about forest-fire smog as it’s due to nature

Indonesia yesterday accused Singapore of acting “like a child” over choking smog from forest fires in Sumatra that has triggered the city-state’s worst environmental crisis in more than a decade. escalation in tensions between tiny Singapore and its vast neighbour came as haze levels enveloping the island hit a record high, shrouding the whole city.

As the acrid smell crept into flats and medical masks sold out, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the crisis could last weeks and urged people to pull together.

The city-state ratcheted up pressure on Jakarta to take “definitive action” to extinguish the fires – but Indonesia, which insists that Singapore-owned plantations on Sumatra also share the blame, hit back.

“Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise,” Agung Laksono, the minister co-ordinating Indonesia’s response, said. “This is not what the Indonesian nation wants, it is because of nature.”

His comments came as Indonesia’s foreign ministry hosted an emergency meeting in Jakarta attended by Singapore’s National Environment Agency chief executive Andrew Tan.

Singapore’s air pollution index hit an all-time high yesterday, soaring to 371 at 1pm, well past the previous record of 321 set the night before. Any reading above 300 is “hazardous” while a reading above 400 is deemed “life-threatening to ill and elderly people,” government guidelines say.

Lee declined to respond to Laksono’s comments, saying he did not want to engage in “megaphone diplomacy”.

He urged people to stay indoors and protect themselves from the haze which has hung over the island since Monday, asking citizens to “look out for one another”. “We cannot tell how the haze problem will develop,” Lee said. “It can easily last for several weeks and quite possibly longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra.”

CBD pharmacies sold out of disposable masks and refused to take orders, as the strong odour seeped into homes.

Parks were empty of the usual morning joggers, but thousands of employees still trooped to offices and labourers continued to work on high-rise buildings.

“This is now the worst haze that Singapore has ever faced,” Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Facebook. “We need urgent and definitive action by Indonesia to tackle the problem at source. Singaporeans have lost patience, and are understandably angry, distressed and concerned.”

Parts of Malaysia close to Singapore have also been affected.

Laksono said plans to use cloud-seeding to unleash rain over Sumatra were under way, and it was hoped helicopters could be dispatched today.

Smallholders and plantations in Sumatra – some of them with Singaporean investors – have been accused of using fire to clear land for cultivation .

Source URL (retrieved on Jun 21st 2013, 6:00am):

550,000 tonnes per annum MSW conversion modular facilities

Solena Fuels’ Projects

Our model is to offer an end to end solution to our customers and end users using our proprietary technology as the key enabler. We co-develop our projects with leaders at their respective major hubs. In addition to the list of projects below, additional efforts are underway with other industrial end-users and one of the world’s largest shipping companies.

Solena Fuels works with British Airways

GreenSky London

British Airways (“BA”) is one of the world’s leading airlines transporting over 31 million passengers per year.  In 2010, British Airways publicly announced the GreenSky London project with Solena CEO Dr. Robert T. Do and with support from the Mayor of London.  In November 2012, BA announced its binding offtake and investment commitment to GreenSky London. The BA offtake commitment represents ~$500 million of jet fuel based on today’s sport prices. GreenSky London will transform tonnes of municipal waste – normally sent to landfills – into Bio-SPK, Green FT Diesel and Green FT Naphtha.

Solena Fuels works with Lufthansa


Lufthansa owns the SWISS, Austrian, Brussels and German wings airlines and collectively flies over 100 million passengers per year. In September 2012, Solena and Lufthansa announced the selection of a site at the PCK Industry Park in Schwedt/Oder located approximately 50 miles northeast of Berlin near the Poland border. PCK Industry Park is the largest contiguous industrial park in northern Brandenburg, strategically located in the northeast greater Berlin-Brandenburg economic area on the Berlin-Szczecin axis. The park is an ideal launch pad for outreach to Eastern and Central Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltic states. Solena Berlin will be of the same design and capacity of GreenSky London.

Solena Fuels works with Qantas


Founded in the Queensland outback in 1920, Qantas has grown to be Australia’s largest domestic and international airline. Registered originally as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited (QANTAS), Qantas is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading long distance airlines and one of the strongest brands in Australia. Over the next 10 years, the Qantas Group has committed capital investment worth around $23 billion in more fuel efficient, next generation aircraft, such as the Airbus A380, Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A320 neo. Qantas is committed to renew their current fleet to offer the greatest benefits to fuel efficiency in the long run by replacing older aircraft with new more fuel-efficient aircraft. In addition, Solena is developing an IBGTL facility in Sydney.

· British Airways confirms purchase of biojet fuel

· British Airways pledges 10-year offtake agreement as GreenSky project with Solena gathers momentum on GreenAir Online

· GreenSky London biofuel plant preparing for lift-off

· Airline Weekly – Waiting for a Breakthrough

· Lufthansa quest for new sources of sustainable jet biofuel

· Lufthansa and Solena sign biofuels MoU

· Commercial Scale Bio-SPK Site Identified

· Dr Robert Do appointed CO-Chair of the ACORE Transportation Initiative

· Airlines Begin to Realise Green Fuel is A Complex Proposition

· Oxford Catalysts Selected for GreenSky London Commercial Plant

· British Airways, climate change and a load of rubbish

· British Airways says biofuel “way to survive”

· Quick Win: Aviation Biofuels Offers Breakout for Clean Energy

· Seven ATA Member Airlines Sign Letters of Intent to Negotiate Purchase of Biomass-Derived Jet Fuel from Solena Fuels

· Where there’s muck there’s brass: a sustainable approach to waste management

· Growing a green fuel industry in Australia

· Aviation May Be Biofuels’ Killer App

· Qantas Investigates Sugar Cane as Fuel for Domestic Fleet

· Off Into The Wild Green Yonder

· Agreement between Alitalia and Solena Group

· Which Way to Go With Alternative Energy Stocks

· Qantas on brink of £200m biojet fuel joint venture

Wales mulls biowaste landfill, incineration ban

Wales mulls biowaste landfill, incineration ban

Wales may ban sending food and garden waste to landfill and for incineration, after a food waste collection service was rolled out to 90% of households.

The success of the food waste collection service has eliminated odour and vermin problems. This means the Welsh government will be able to cut the frequency of residual household waste collections to just once a month in the near future, an official said at a conference last week.

The government will publish a white paper on its plans in the autumn, he added.

The European Commission is considering a ban on sending compostable waste to landfill as part of a wide-ranging review of EU waste law now underway. A ban on landfilling waste that has not been pre-treated to eliminate methane emissions was also mooted in a recently launched EU consultation.

Sweden implemented a ban on sending organic waste to landfill in 2005. The measure has been a “major catalyst” for the diversion of municipal solid waste from landfill, according to the European Environment Agency.

Germany plans to have nationwide collection of biodegradable waste in place by 2015, which will enable diversion of almost all organic waste to composting or anaerobic digestion, a spokeswoman for the European Compost Network said. Across the EU, only 29% of biowaste is collected separately, she added.

Wales will invest around €60m in anaerobic digestion facilities to treat the 150,000 tonnes of food waste the country produces annually, the official said. The facilities will generate 60 megawatts of renewable energy. A new 11,000t plant will open later this year, with a second 22,500t plant to begin operation next spring.

In neighbouring England, central government is spending almost €300m on a controversial scheme to help cash-strapped local authorities to continue to provide weekly residual waste collections. Central government says the measure is necessary from a public health perspective.

But some local authorities are using the money to trial food-waste composting services as an alternative.

Follow Up:

Welsh government waste and recycling

Smoky haze from Indonesian forest fires chokes Singapore, Malaysia

Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 12:00am



Agence France-Presse in Singapore

Smoky haze from forest fires on Sumatra shrouds Singapore and Malaysian states

Singapore urged Indonesia to take “urgent measures” as severe air pollution from forest fires on Sumatra choked the densely populated city state.

Singapore’s skyscrapers, including the Marina Bay Sands casino towers, were yesterday shrouded in haze and the acrid smell of burnt wood wafted through the central business district.

Parts of Malaysia also suffered from the smoky haze, a recurring problem Southeast Asian governments have failed to solve, despite repeated calls for action.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) said it alerted its Indonesian counterpart on the situation “and urged the Indonesian authorities to look into urgent measures to mitigate the trans-boundary haze occurrence”.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on his Facebook page: “The haze situation in Malaysia is going to worsen in the coming days with winds carrying smoke from the hot spots in Sumatra.

“Please reduce outdoor activity and drink a lot of water during this period. Health should remain a No1 priority for everyone.”

The problem occurs in the dry season as a result of forest fires in the sprawling Indonesian archipelago. Some of them are deliberately started to clear land for cultivation.

Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index soared to 111 by late afternoon, well past the officially designated unhealthy threshold of 100, according to the NEA website.

It said 138 hot spots indicating fires were detected on Sumatra on Sunday, and prevailing winds carried smoke to Singapore.

People with heart and lung disease, those over 65 and children are advised by the NEA to “reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion” even in moderate haze conditions, defined as a reading of 51-100.

Singaporean doctor Ong Kian Chung, a respiratory specialist at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said he expected a surge in patients in coming days if the haze stayed at current levels.

“The usual complaints during haze are throat irritation, eye irritation, cough and difficulty breathing,” he said.

Those who have pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis are more at risk, he said.

Business and air transport have so far not been affected.

Singapore, like Hong Kong, is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, with the majority of its 5.3 million people living in high-rise apartment blocks.

Haze was also at unhealthy levels in parts of Malaysia yesterday, particularly in the states of Pahang, Malacca and Terengganu.

Southeast Asia’s haze problem hit its worst level in 1997-1998, causing widespread health problems and costing the regional economy billions of dollars as a result of business and air transport disruptions.


Air Pollution

Forest Fires


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The smoky view from Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. Photo: Reuters

Source URL (retrieved on Jun 18th 2013, 12:54pm):

Li Ka-shing to buy Dutch waste firm for US$1.26b

Monday, 17 June, 2013, 11:23am


Donny Kwok and Denny Thomas in Hong Kong

Dutch acquisition marks the group’s second deal in waste management, after Australian private equity firm Ironbridge sold its New Zealand waste company to Cheung Kong Infrastructure

Cheung Kong (Holdings), controlled by Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, said it will buy Dutch waste processing firm RAV Water Treatment for 943.68 million euros (HK$9.8 billion), in an overseas expansion drive that has targeted infrastructure assets offering steady recurring income.

Li’s business empire, which spans property, telecoms, ports and retailing, has been seeking stable investment opportunities in well-regulated markets outside of Hong Kong, where its opportunities for expansion are becoming limited.

Other partners in the acquiring consortium include Hutchison Whampoa’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings, Power Assets Holdings and Li Ka Shing Foundation, according to a statement [1].

They are buying AVR-Afvalverwerking, owner of RAV Water Treatment I, which processes waste and supplies renewable energy from waste incineration in the Netherlands. ( )

Cheung Kong Infrastructure, Hong Kong’s No. 2 property developer, and its investment arms have spent US$14.2 billion, including debt, buying assets globally over the past decade, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Last year, companies controlled by octogenarian billionaire Li agreed to buy British gas company Wales and West Utilities for US$1 billion. In 2010, Cheung Kong Infrastructure and Power Asset Holdings agreed to buy the British electricity distribution networks of France’s EDF for 5.8 billion pounds (HK$70.6 billion).

The Dutch acquisition marks the group’s second deal in waste management, after Australian private equity firm Ironbridge sold its New Zealand waste company, EnviroWaste Services Ltd, to Cheung Kong Infrastructure for NZ$501 million (HK$3.1 billion), including NZ$11 million in debt, in January.

Cheung Kong Holdings and Cheung Kong Infrastructure will each hold 35 per cent of the joint venture acquiring the Dutch company. Power Assets will hold 20 per cent and Li Ka Shing Foundation will own 10 per cent. The investment will be financed from internal resources.

Shares of Cheung Kong rose 3 per cent on Monday but are down more than 9 per cent since the start of the year. Hong Kong’s benchmark index was up 1.1 per cent on the day, but is down nearly 7 per cent for the year.

Among the other Li Ka-shing units involved in the deal, Cheung Kong Infrastructure gained 3.3 per cent, Power Assets was up 1.9 per cent and Hutchison climbed 2.6 per cent.



Cheung Kong (Holdings)


State Council announces 10 new measures to curb air pollution

Published on South China Morning Post (

Home > State Council announces 10 new measures to curb air pollution

State Council announces 10 new measures to curb air pollution

Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 12:00am



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Green activists hand out masks to pedestrians on The Bund yesterday to raise awareness of air pollution in downtown Shanghai. Photo: Reuters

Cary Huang in Beijing

Controls on worst polluters and PM2.5, adjustment to nation’s energy structure among State Council measures to rid cities of choking smog

The central government has taken further steps to curb air pollution, with fresh measures outlined at a cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang yesterday. State Council announced 10 new measures to fight air pollution in urban areas.

The government had promised to implement stricter curbs on severe air pollution after most of the cities in the north choked on thick smog for most of the winter.

It will strictly control highly energy-intensive and polluting industries, adjust its energy structure and enhance control of PM2.5 – particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter that can damage health – in populated regions and cities, a statement released after the meeting said.

The government said it would eliminate overcapacity in heavily polluting industries, such as iron and steel, cement, aluminium and flat glass, earlier than the target originally set in the latest five-year plan. It also vowed to reduce major emissions by some heavily polluting industries by more than 30 per cent by the end of 2017.

During periods of heavy pollution, local governments should enact emergency management response measures, such as traffic restrictions or emissions limits for polluting industries, the cabinet said.

The government would hold regional officials accountable for achieving targets on curbing pollution set by the government and strengthen oversight by setting up an assessment system, it said.

Regional officials have long pursued rapid economic growth, with mounting costs in terms of environmental destruction and air pollution.

Zhou Rong , a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said the general strategies adopted in fighting air pollution were “in the right direction”, though how effective they would be would depend on the details of each measure.

“For instance, the top leadership has realised the key solutions to air pollution lie in restructuring energy consumption and eliminating production of highly polluting industries,” she said. “But detailed targets have yet to be announced … to see how ambitious the government really is on cleaning up the sky.”

The State Council also said air quality would be included in appraising the performance of local officials. “This could bring some genuine change if the air quality issue is given a higher priority than gross domestic product growth, but it is still a big if now, given the very brief outlines of these 10 measures,” Zhou said.

Following the announcement of the new measures, the revision of the mainland’s outdated air pollution prevention law could be accelerated, she said.

The State Council meeting also studied the development of the solar power industry, which is suffering from overcapacity and has become a source of friction with Western trading partners.


Air Pollution

State Council

Source URL (retrieved on Jun 15th 2013, 12:01pm):

Carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012, IEA report says

Smoke is emitted from chimneys of a cement plant in Binzhou city in eastern China. According to an IEA report, global carbon dioxide emissions from energy use rose 1.4 percent.
Jun 10, 2013 09:00 AM EDT
The Washington Post
Updated: Monday, June 10, 5:00 PM
Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report scheduled to be issued Monday.
The agency said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), which IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned “would be a disaster for all countries.”
The president has been making this claim for months. Is it still a good news story?
The planet is on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals.
“This puts us on a difficult and dangerous trajectory,” Birol said. “If we don’t do anything between now and 2020, it will be very difficult because there will be a lot of carbon already in the atmosphere and the energy infrastructure will be locked in.”
The energy sector accounts for more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, so “energy has a crucial role to play in tackling climate change,” the IEA said. Its report urged nations to take four steps, including aggressive energy-efficiency measures, by 2015 to keep alive any hope of limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius.
The United States was one of the few relatively bright spots in the report. Switches from coal to shale gas accounted for about half the nation’s 3.8 percent drop in energy-related emissions, which fell for the fourth time in the past five years, dipping to a level last seen in the 1990s. The other factors were a mild winter, declining demand for gasoline and diesel, and the increasing use of renewable energy.
Emissions also fell in Europe.
But they rose 3.8 percent in China. That was one of the slowest increases in the past decade, and half of 2011’s rate of increase. The level of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity generation has fallen about 17 percent. But China remains the largest contributor of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with about a quarter of global emissions.
Japan’s emissions jumped 5.8 percent as the country imported and burned large amounts of liquefied natural gas and coal to compensate for the loss of electricity production from nuclear plants that have been idle since a tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.
Emissions also climbed in developing countries outside the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, especially in the oil-rich Middle East, where fuel prices are heavily subsidized.
“What I believe is that climate change is slipping down in the political agenda in many countries even though the scientific evidence about climate change continues to mount,” Birol said.
The IEA mapped a way for countries and companies to contain increases in global temperatures. It urged them to implement aggressive energy-efficiency measures; limit the output of inefficient coal plants and mandate that all future coal plants be highly efficient supercritical ones; reduce the release of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) in oil and gas operations; and phase out fossil-fuel subsidies.
The agency estimated that the release of natural gas, or methane, during upstream oil and gas operations accounted for about half of all methane emissions by the oil and gas industry. Large, aging pipeline networks in Europe, Russia and the United States also account for a large amount, the IEA said.
The IEA also warned that the reductions in carbon dioxide released in the United States would be hard to duplicate because natural gas prices were unusually low in 2012 and coal might regain some market share as gas prices rise.
Notwithstanding the Fukushima accident, Birol said nuclear energy remains “a very important option to fight against climate change.” The report also urged the pursuit of carbon capture and storage methods.

The book of the dead


Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 12:00am
Magazines›Post Magazine
Simon Parry
One woman’s chronicle of the death and suffering in Wuli has shed light on the grim plight of the Zhejiang ‘cancer village’, writes Hazel Knowles

Wei Dongying spreads a sheaf of handwritten papers across the living room floor of her simple home and sits back patiently in her chair as we read through them, page by page. These testimonies – some neat and concise, others brief and angry, others barely more than a scrawl – amount to an extraordinary chronicle of human suffering: a dossier of despair that charts the slow, agonising death of Wei’s once-thriving village.

For more than a decade, the 46-year-old has been tracking the abnormally high cancer rates in Wuli village, Zhejiang province, by collecting poignant written statements from the dying and from the shattered, grieving families they leave behind.

“I really feel as if my whole body is disintegrating,” one victim, a close neighbour, wrote. “I just wish my village could go back to the way it was when I was young. I want to taste fresh water and breathe fresh air again.”

Months after committing his thoughts to paper, Wang Jiangping, 49, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died in July last year.

Mr Cao, whose young wife died of breast cancer, vented his anger in writing: “It’s all because of the factories. So many people are dying since the factories arrived. No one is listening. Why doesn’t someone stop this?”

A fisherman living in the village wrote: “These chemical factories dump their waste water directly into the river. The water used to be clear but now it’s murky and it stinks. There used to be so many fish and so many shrimp. Now, everything has died. The pollution is too much. It is affecting all of us and there is nothing we can do about it. We have nowhere to go and no one will help.”

Wuli is one of the so-called “cancer villages”, recognised at last by Beijing this year as having unusually high rates of the disease because of unregulated industrial development. That recognition came after years of campaigning by environmental groups and individual campaigners such as Wei.

Far from being a dirty secret tucked away in one of the country’s inland provinces, Wuli lies on an east coast estuary on the outskirts of one of the mainland’s most picturesque and prosperous cities, Hangzhou. While couples and families pose for pictures and stroll along the banks of Hangzhou’s famous West Lake, the environment in Wuli, just 30 kilometres away, is horrifically different. The earth and air in the centuries-old village have been so badly poisoned by a sprawl of chemical factories, which for years have pumped their waste water straight out into the river, that officials are considering relocating its 1,500 remaining residents.

In February, the government also promised a crackdown on factories that poison the environment in cancer villages. But for scores of grieving families in Wuli and thousands more in an estimated 250 black spots dotted across the mainland, the declaration means little and has come too late.

Once a thriving fishing village known throughout Zhejiang for its crystal-clear water, Wuli has been slowly choked to death by chemical factories set up in the 1990s to serve the global clothes industry. More than 300 textiles factories line the estuary – the area accounts for about one-third of the mainland’s fabric-dyeing industry – and two massive industrial zones, of 415 and 155 square kilometres, have been set up within a half hour’s drive of Wuli.

Environmental experts estimate that one million tonnes of toxic waste water a day is pumped into the Qiantang River, much of it washing back across village waterways as the tide rises.

The symptoms of pollution were quick to appear. Soon after the first factories began operating, crops started to die in the fields around Wuli and dead fish were found floating on the river. Next, tap water ran red and gave off a foul stench. Then, villagers began to succumb to cancer in unusually high numbers.

When the cancer cases spread, shocked residents called for the factories to be shut down but compensation payments of tens of thousands of yuan, allegedly including some to protest leaders, quelled the unrest. Only Wei and a handful of others fought on. With no official statistics available on cancer fatalities, it was impossible to know exactly how widespread they were. All that existed were worrying anecdotes and accounts passed from neighbour to neighbour about clusters of sudden illnesses and deaths.

Wei began to keep a diary detailing every case she heard of, and began going door to door to collect testimonies from the dying and bereaved. She estimates people have died at the rate of about 10 a year within just a three-kilometre radius of her home.

Carrying her diary of death, she has since harried and hassled local officials to take action. They have done their best to silence her.

Early on in her campaign, factory owners made an extraordinary appeal to Wei – asking her to back off for three years, to give them time to relocate to new sites away from Wuli. Her response was one of defiance and sheer exasperation.

“You’re killing people,” she told them. “If the police discovered a murderer, should they arrest him straight away or let him carry on murdering for three more years?”

As the deaths continued, Wei began to realise her fight to shut down the factories, or at the very least force them to dispose of waste water safely, through treatment plants, was a futile one. Officials wavered between attempting to silence her and promising to force the factories to behave responsibly – while the pollution continued unabated.

Instead of setting up treatment plants to safely dispose of the waste water, factories were continuing to pump it straight out into the river, through hidden underground pipes, she says.

“If the factories paid what it costs to treat the waste water properly, they would probably go bankrupt,” Wei says. “Instead, they are making more profit than ever before. It is our village and our environment that is paying the price.

“When people began to die, the local government promised all the factories would be moved out, but they went back on their word. They said they would force the factories to use a waste-water treatment plant. But in the end, they were empty words. We were shunted from one bureau to another, only to be told there was nothing they could do and that we should complain to the central government instead.”

In February, Wei attended a national meeting of environmental campaigners in Shanghai, taking with her a simple but poignant message on behalf of the Wuli villagers: “Factories are dumping their waste water into the ground and into the Qiantang River. It happens year after year and day after day. We are so worried about the situation here. Our village is known as the Cancer Village. Lots of people here get ill and die. We want our national leaders to pay attention to this and to help us.”

Wei’s husband, Shao Guantong, 58, a fisherman who has supported his wife throughout her years of campaigning, has an especially personal reason for helping her battle. In 1996, he lost his elder brother to lung cancer that he believes was caused by the pollution.

“At the time, we didn’t know that cancer was connected to the pollution,” Shao says. “We didn’t know what the poisonous air and water were doing to us.

“When we played in the village as young boys, the water here was the best in eastern China. The area was fresh and everything was green. You could drink from the streams and from the river.

“Then, in 1992, they started building the chemical factories here. Suddenly the air wasn’t so clear. There was a pungent smell that choked you. After about three years, we started to find a lot of dead fish. The village committee warned us not to eat or sell the dead fish but they didn’t say why.

“In 1997, we started to tell the government to stop the pollution. They promised us it would stop. They said they would bring in new standards and that any factory that breached those standards would be closed down. But that never happened.

“When I was young, if seven men from this village wanted to serve in the army, seven men would pass their fitness tests and qualify. Last year, 17 men from the village wanted to serve in the army but only one of them qualified.”

The one youngster who did qualify was Wei and Shao’s son.

“My son is only in good health because of my care,” Shao says. “After what happened to my brother, I never let my son drink the water from the village. Now he has left to serve in the army and I am happy that he has left here.

“I am worried about my own health; of course I am. All of us are. Last year I fell ill with stomach trouble and I ended up in hospital. I was very relieved when I was given the all-clear for cancer.”

The people facing the greatest risks in Wuli are the factory workers, nearly all of whom are migrants from the poorest provinces. They emerge from work every day caked in bright red dye and are given health checks by the factories every six months.

“If we are well, we can stay on,” says a 34-year-old factory worker from Sichuan province. “If we are sick, we are given compensation and sent home. We get good money – about 4,000 yuan [HK$5,000] a month. But it is tough work and many people get sick. The longest anyone lasts here is about three years.”

Officials have repeatedly denied there is any link between the pollution and cancer deaths, and many fatalities go unrecorded by Wei because families fear speaking to her. She believes there is only one viable solution for the remaining villagers.

“The government promised to move the factories out but they went back on their word,” she says. “Now the situation is so bad the only solution is for the villagers to be moved out.”

It is a solution the local government appears to be contemplating. In her home at the centre of the village, where many houses are already deserted, Wuli primary school teacher Feng Xiaofei says officials have told her residents will soon be provided with homes in a new village, about 15 kilometres away. In what appears to be a cynical ploy to avoid any claims for compensation, they told her the villagers were being relocated to allow Wuli to be transformed into a tourist resort.

“They told us the water and the air in Wuli are perfectly safe but they said they want to turn Wuli into a resort for visitors to enjoy the beautiful scenery and trips along the river,” says Feng.

The deaths in Wuli are part of a broader trend. Cancer is now the biggest killer on the mainland, with an 80 per cent rise in mortality rates in the past 30 years, according to health ministry figures. Pressure group Greenpeace estimates 190 million people on the mainland – more than one in seven of its 1.3 billion souls – drink water that is severely contaminated with hazardous chemicals.

Li Yifang, a Greenpeace investigator who spent three years researching textile industry pollution in China, says Wuli and surrounding villages have been particularly badly hit.

“One woman worker in a dyeing factory near Wuli told us her husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law had all died of cancer,” Li says. “In another village near the factories, everyone we met told us that at least one or two of their relatives had died from cancer.”

Greenpeace has tested the waste water discharged from factories in the Wuli area and found alarmingly high levels of cancer-causing chemicals and ones that cause infertility, Li says. It found stretches of the Qiantang River where toxic waste being discharged by factories was creating “a black sprawl 50 metres wide”, Li says.

“There is really visible water pollution in the area. You can even see the discharge on Google Earth.”

In its first acknowledgement of the issue, the Ministry of Environmental Protection in February confirmed that chemical pollution had led to “severe health and social problems such as cancer villages”. It outlined a clampdown on 58 types of toxic chemicals – an announcement Li describes as a “baby step” towards addressing decades of environmental degradation.

“In the past, the local authorities always said the discharged water met China’s standards,” she says. “Now, at least, they acknowledge the problem because they tell us and say publically that there is a loophole with the regulations.”

WEI IS CLEARLY EXHAUSTED by her fight for justice and admits to being intimidated by local officials who keep telling her to stop speaking out.

“Sometimes I regret doing all of this because things are still bad and I see no hope for the future,” she says, shaking her head sadly. “Six windows were broken at our house recently. I worry all the time about the safety of my family.”

Scooping up the papers from her living room floor, she says: “It is so difficult for a Chinese person to protest about problems like these. Some people I know in other parts of China are followed by the police day and night and sent to jail for doing what I am doing.

“Officials say to me, ‘Don’t ask journalists to come.’ I tell them, ‘I don’t ask them to come. They come because of the pollution, so you are inviting them yourselves.’ On one occasion they called me into their offices and asked me to stop.

“They said to me, ‘How much do you want? We can negotiate.’ But I told them I am doing this for the children of the village and for the generations who come after us. You can’t count people’s lives in money.”

Red Door News Hong Kong

Simon Parry

Toxic shock

Wuli is just one village paying the price for soaring global demand for cheap clothes, and consumers and governments worldwide must act to stop the pollution, environmental activists say.

According to a 2012 Greenpeace report titled “Toxic Threads”, the pressure group found traces of potentially cancer-causing chemicals in scores of brand-name items sold in high-street stores worldwide. The report argued that big brands were making consumers “unwitting accomplices in the toxic water cycle” and called for manufacturers to commit to a deadline of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020.

A survey of 141 items of clothing bought in 29 countries in April last year as part of the report’s research found high levels of toxic phthalates in four of the garments and cancer-causing amines from the use of dyes in two. NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) were found in 89 garments while a variety of potentially hazardous industrial chemicals were found in a number of other tested items.

“Around 80 billion garments are produced worldwide, the equivalent of just over 11 garments a year for every person on the planet,” the report states. “The increased volume of clothing being made, sold and thrown away magnifies the human and environmental costs of our clothes at every stage of their life cycle.

“While these brands continue to use our public waterways like their own private sewers, threatening people’s livelihoods and health, we have a right to know which chemicals they are releasing.”

Brands, governments and consumers all need to act to stop the toxic cycle, the report says.

“People at either end of the fashion chain require more transparency about the hazardous chemicals used to make their clothes, and how much of these get released into the environment,” it says. “In particular, communities living near production facilities have the right to know what is coming out of those factories.

“As global players, clothing brands have the opportunity to work on global solutions to eliminate the use of hazardous substances throughout their product lines, and to drive a change in practice throughout their supply chains.

“The use of hazardous chemicals by suppliers needs to be subject to much greater scrutiny, through the creation of mechanisms to ensure transparency so that local populations can verify that discharges are indeed being eliminated.”

Consumers, it said, should buy fewer new clothes and buy second-hand clothes where possible. They should also put pressure on brands to act responsibly and demand that governments act to restrict sales and imports of products containing hazardous chemicals.

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