Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

June 7th, 2013:

The houses built on China’s ‘poisoned’ land

The houses built on China’s ‘poisoned’ land

Homes are being built on contaminated land in Chinese cities – and the residents of these developments have no idea


· Gao Shengke and Wang Kai for ChinaDialogue, part of the Guardian Environment Network

·, Thursday 6 June 2013 14.36 BST

2013 China Environment Journalism awardsIndustry experts estimate there are likely to be tens of thousands of plots of polluted land across China. Photograph: Caijing

Gao Shengke and Wang Kai have won the prize for Best Investigation atchinadialogue’s and The Guardian’s China Environmental Press Awards – 2013 for their investigation into contaminated earth in Chinese cities. Here is the first of their three-part series of reports.

The excavators are rumbling and dust swirls all about at the second phase of the Kangquan New City construction project in Guanzhuang village, Chaoyang District, outside Beijing’s east fifth ring road.

A 20-metre deep pit has been dug on the site. A foul stench rises from the pile of earth that has been removed. Until now, few people knew about the secret that was buried here.

This plot of land was previously the site of a factory owned by the Ministry of Railways that made anti-corrosive railway sleepers. The plant was in operation for more than 30 years; many kinds of organic pollutants continuously seeped into the topsoil, deeper soil layers, and into the groundwater. Some seven or eight years ago, the factory was relocated and this plot of ground was left unused. In January 2011, the city administration decided to convert the land into a development for affordable housing and it was taken over by the Residential Construction Service Centre for Civil Servants to build low-cost housing for civil servants from all ministries.

After the Civil Servants Residential Centre took over the plot, a number of specialists carried out an initial land survey. In May 2011, the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences released a public environmental impact assessment report which made no mention of any soil pollution problem. There was also no mention of the historical use of the site or the original environment.

However, Caijing magazine got hold of another similar survey report by the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, which showed that pollutants in the soil seriously exceeded approved levels, especially semi-volatile organic pollutants such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons. There were many kinds of hydrocarbons, most of them relatively strong carcinogens and mutagens.

Furthermore, the groundwater pollution was also relatively serious. The report said the most serious pollution occurred at a depth of between 0 and 7 metres, though at 12 metres pollutants still exceeded limits.

Heavy metals, electronic waste, petrochemical organic pollutants and persistent organic pollutants are the four main types of pollutants in contaminated land. One specialist said that there are countless plots of land larger than Kangquan New City that are even harder to remediate. “Last century, from the 1950s to the 1980s, Beijing’s south third ring road was a chemical factory zone, with a concentration of pesticide plants. How many times has this plot of land been surveyed? How many times has the soil been remediated? This area was converted into a residential and commercial district long ago.”

The problem of polluted land extends far beyond Beijing. After 2001, a large number of polluting enterprises were moved out of the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, and the old industrial bases of China’s northeast. In 2008, the central office of the State Administration of Work Safety insisted that highly-polluting chemical enterprises should be phased out.

Research undertaken by Luo Yongming, a senior soil expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, showed that from 2008 countless polluting companies relocated from Jiangsu, Liaoning, Guangzhou, Chongqing, and other areas, displacing over 20,000 hectares of contaminated land.

From 2004 to 2012, Chongqing relocated 137 polluting factories. Furthermore, these factory sites are mostly now prime real estate locations. For three consecutive years, Jiangsu relocated more than 4,000 heavily polluting chemical enterprises, leaving behind a large area of land with unknown levels of pollution.

Exactly how widespread the problem is in China is unclear, but a senior industry specialist pointed out that there must be tens of thousands of plots of polluted land nationwide; of these pesticide plants occupy quite a high proportion but only a miniscule number of these have been treated or are undergoing treatment.

In Beijing, for example, between 2001 and 2005, 142 factories were relocated, displacing 8.78 million square metres of reusable land. According to Li Jingdong, section head of the polluted land management department under the Beijing Bureau of Environmental Protection, from 2004 until now, only a few dozen contaminated sites have been identified, out of which only eight have been remediated.

Because of a lack of both facilities and awareness at old state-owned factories, pollutants were handled in a fairly basic fashion. In those days, pesticide factories usually just buried pesticide residues and harmful chemical residues onsite, just five or six metres below ground. A lot of land that was treated this way still has high concentrations of pollutants, sometimes hundreds or thousands of times above set limits.

These days “the number of plots of land that have been identified as polluted still hasn’t reached 100,” says Jiang Lin, associate director of the Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Environmental Protection. There are about 400,000 to 500,000 polluted sites in the US. Europe also has several tens of thousands of sites.

Cheng Mengfang, a researcher with the Institute of Soil Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, pointed out that in China a lot of contaminated ground has not been treated or remediated, it’s just directly exploited for development.

The danger to public health
Polluted soil endangers the human body both directly and indirectly. The indirect channels are through groundwater, surface water and the atmosphere. The direct channel is through dust in the air or when children play and without paying attention absorb some of the contaminated soil.

Since the mid-1990s, polluted sites in China have led to an excessive amount of acute poisoning incidents. As the rate of land development has accelerated, these kinds of accidents are becoming more frequent.

On April 28, 2004, at the construction site for the Songjiazhuang subway station at the south third ring road in Beijing, three workers were poisoned while underground. They were sent to hospital, while the worker with the most serious condition had to be given hyperbaric oxygen therapy. A pesticide factory previously occupied the site.

In July 2006, at the site where a chemical factory was moved from Guoxiang, near the south ring road in Suzhou, Jiangsu, leaving behind 20 mu of contaminated land, six construction workers fell into a coma after diggging up a pile of contaminated earth.

During Spring Festival in 2007, at the Heshan construction site in Wuhan, a pungent stench grew stronger after a deep layer of soil was excavated. One after the other, the workers began to feel dizzy and have difficulties breathing. Because they didn’t know what the problem was, they carried on working. Finally, several of the poisoned workers were sent to hospital for emergency treatment. This was the former site of a pesticide plant.

A professional in pollution remediation who took part in the sampling of the site of Beijing Chemical Factory number 2 described how toxic gas was continuously emitted from a pipe. The gas could be ignited with a lighter, which showed that the concentration of the pollutant was high enough to cause fatal poisoning.

Chen Tongbin, the director of the Environmental Bioremediation Centre at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that there could be relatively long incubation periods depending on the kind and concentration of pollutants. “When poisoning becomes acute, it shows that the pollution at the site has reached a grave level. Those people who are long-term residents of this plot of polluted ground may then become chronically contaminated. Symptoms may not appear for five years, 10 years, even dozens of years later.”

A lack of transparency
Even though some plots of contaminated land have come to light, news about them is strictly blocked. It is only for internal discussion by specialists and closed-door decision-making by the government. A specialist who has taken part in many soil remediation projects gave the example of a commercial building site in Guangzhou that was formerly the site of a key fertiliser factory, and where heavy metals and petrochemical pollutants both exceeded safety levels. This site was chosen for Guangzhou’s Asian Games Village. The pollution problem was only discovered after an investigation and so finally the Asian Games Village was moved to Panyu District. However, the residents of the construction site were never told the truth.

A senior industry insider disclosed to Caijing that a particular industrial plot in Shenzhen was the original location of a large number of electronics companies. After these companies were relocated, they left behind a serious amount of solid waste pollution. All the offices on this plot of land currently have no idea. Even the local government doesn’t have a clear idea of the extent of the problem.
Caijing also found out that the polluted ground in the second phase of the Beijing Kangquan New City construction project has already been treated. Someone who identified themselves as the person in charge of onsite earthwork construction with the Beijing Zhonghou Construction Machinery Company said that the contaminated soil was moved to Beijing’s eastern suburbs. It was handled by “digging down several dozen metres, and then covering with good soil. This was done according to requirements and with the Ministry of Environmental Protection making several inspections.”

After bringing the polluted soil to the landfill, anti-seepage work must be carried out on the landfill to prevent polluting the groundwater. Someone with inside knowledge of the second phase of the Kangquan New City construction project claimed that the “contaminated soil that was dug up, after it was moved away was sorted into several different categories according to how it would treated such as pyrolyzed, incinerated, or composted, but during the treatment process there could be some non-standard procedures.”

But the Civil Servants Residential Centre has positively confirmed neither of these claims. Another person familiar with the matter said that at the meeting to evaluate bids for the second construction phase of Kangquan New City, a specialist in the evaluation group claimed bidders were judged solely on the company’s qualifications and estimate; it took no account of any initial plan for remediation. “At the meeting someone even joked, after the project is completed, we can ask the Ministry for Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Land and Resources, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development to move in. If there’s no problem then other ministries can move in too. After all, these ministries have a better level of knowledge than the others.”

Originally published by Caijing magazine

read what’s happening elsewhere in the world

Villagers ready to fight incinerator

If it cost $630 a tonne to handle ship and dump MSW 13 years ago what does it cost now ?

We could sell or give it to Europe including the shipping cost, for far less. They can send their own ships.

Europe currently has 7 milion tonnes incineration capacity and only 1.5 million tonnes of MSW feedstocks.

South China Morning Post

Published on South China Morning Post (

Home > Villagers ready to fight incinerator

Villagers ready to fight incinerator

Sunday, 20 February, 2000, 12:00am

Jennifer Ehrlich

TUEN MUN has emerged as the most probable site for two waste incinerators the Government plans to build to burn rubbish that will soon overflow Hong Kong’s landfills.
Green groups and the nearby villagers in Lung Kwu Tan are preparing for a fight over the $10 billion project.

Scientists are still arguing whether burning waste pollutes the air. The decision to incinerate Hong Kong’s rubbish comes at a time when the Government has also vowed to improve air quality.
The two 150-megawatt incinerators will burn 6,000 tonnes of rubbish a day and convert the heat into electricity. The incinerators are the second stage of the Government’s long-term plan to stop digging landfills.

Green groups and people who live close to the earmarked site said incinerators emitted harmful dioxins and mercury.
‘Whatever comes out of the incinerators will pollute our air, our water and the food that we eat,’ said Clement Lam, a local Greenpeace campaigner.

‘There is no safe level of dioxin.’ Hong Kong is a target of Greenpeace’s international campaign to fight incinerators. Mr Lam said the Government was choosing a hasty and dangerous option to deal with waste. But Kim Salkeld, Deputy Secretary of the Food and Environment Bureau, said: ‘That’s complete and utter rubbish. Ten years of work has gone into the incinerator project and it is only one component of a range of waste-reduction efforts.’ The Government has completed the first part of the plan – to phase out old polluting incinerators and promote domestic recycling.

But green groups say waste-burning incinerators should be a part of the past.
‘We have closed down incinerators in the past, but that does not mean we will be building the same kind as before,’ said Conrad Lam, principal environmental protection officer at the Environmental Protection Department.

When Hong Kong set up its landfills in the 1980s, planners expected they would last half a century. But waste disposed of in Hong Kong’s three landfills has risen from 12,500 tonnes a day in 1989 to 18,000 tonnes a day last year. The amount of domestic waste has nearly doubled from 5,000 tonnes a day in 1984 to 9,300.

Mr Lam said the other three sites at Junk Bay, Lamma Island and Ha Pak Nai were still being considered, but during the environmental impact study, problems emerged with each of these locations.

The incinerators must be in areas where the wind will blow ash away from Hong Kong, and in places that are near to power plants, so that energy generated by the incinerators can be used for electricity.

Junk Bay and Lamma Island have large populations and wind complications. In Ha Pak Nai, the nearby villages with 400-year-old archeological ruins and wetlands would make it more expensive and complicated to locate the plant there, Mr Lam said.

But the possibility of building the incinerator at an entirely new location had not yet been ruled out, Mr Lam said.

The studies have been under way since 1997. Mr Lam said the incinerator project would not move forward until the environmental assessment was completed for Ha Pak Nai.

The Government estimates it costs $630 a tonne to handle, ship and dump Hong Kong’s rubbish – nearly $6 million a day. The new incinerators will cost an additional $260 million a year to operate.




Man Made Disaster


Source URL (retrieved on Jun 8th 2013, 10:38am):

cid:image001.png@01CE6433.A18C28B0Tit Cham Chau 2008

According to a mainstream media report( quoted from, a major developer in Hong Kong is planning to develop one of the most beautiful piece of wetland called Ha Pak Nai (下白泥)in Yuen Long. The plan is to build 122 country houses, 56 village style hotels, a golf court around the 5 million square meters wetland and a tiny insect museum, which means the whole wetland area will be privatized in term of spatial arrangement. People’s blog urges people to submit form against the town planning application. The deadline is Sept 26. The blogger also posts a map showing the details of the development plan.


Laboratory Testing

N. T.

Soils & Materials Engineering Co., Ltd.

Feature No. CE 97/96 F.S. of Waste-to-Energy Incineration Facilities Land Site Investigation of Ha Pak Nai


Ground Investigation

N. T. West

Enpack (Hong Kong) Ltd.

Agreement No. CE 97/96 Feasibility Study for Waste-to-Energy Incineration Facilities S.I. Requirements for Ha Pak Nai Site


Laboratory Testing


MateriaLab Ltd.

Agreement No. CE 97/96 F.S. for Waste-to-Energy Incineration Facilities Marine S.I. at Tuen Mun (Black Point)


Laboratory Testing


MateriaLab Ltd.

Agreement No. CE 97/96 F.S. for Waste-to-Energy Incineration Facilities Marine S.I. at Lamma Island Site


Laboratory Testing


MateriaLab Ltd.

Agreement No. CE 97/96 F.S. for Waste-to-Energy Incineration Facilities Tit Cham Chau


Laboratory Testing

N. T.

Soils & Materials Engineering Co., Ltd.

Agreement CE 68/2000 Feasibility Study for Animal Carcass Treatment Facilities S.I. – Review Phases & Design of G.I. Groundwater Sampling


Laboratory Testing

N. T.

Soils & Materials Engineering Co., Ltd.

Agreement No. CE 45/99 Extension of Existing Landfills and Identification of Potential New Waste Disposal Sites


Geophysical Surveys

EGS (Asia) Ltd.

Agreement No. CE37/2002 (EP) Environmental Review of Urban Landfills and Tseung Kwan O Landfills – Feasibility Study Additional Works – Trial Geophysical Survey of Waste Boundary (Western Boundary of Ma Yau Tong West Landfill)


Chemical and Biological Testing of Sediment

Lam Laboratories Ltd.

Contract No.: CV/2004/13 Temporary Construction Waste Sorting Facilities at Tseung Kwan O Area 137 and Tuen Mun Area 38. Chemical Testing of Sediment.

GCC will now look at incinerator alternatives after it agrees to back planning refusal


GCC will now look at incinerator alternatives after it agrees to back planning refusal

12:00pm Saturday 18th May 2013

By Chris Warne

GLOUCESTERSHIRE County Council will defend the decision of its planning committee to refuse permission for the £500 million Javelin Park incinerator project near Haresfield.

The authority’s planning committee unanimously opposed the controversial application in March and at a meeting at Shire Hall on Wednesday (May, 15) it was agreed that a cross-party working group should be established immediately to consider alternatives.

GCC’s Conservative administration signed a 25-year contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty for the plant back in September and the company could still appeal the planning committee’s refusal.

But anti-incineration campaigners from GlosVAIN welcomed GCC’s commitment to support its planning committee in the event of an appeal as a ‘huge step forward’.

Campaigners did express disappointment, however, that the motion tabled by former Lib Dem leader Jeremy Hilton (Kingsholm and Wotton) was watered down.

The original wording of Cllr Hilton’s motion had said: “This council recognises that the waste incinerator project no longer has the support of this council following the outcome of the county council elections.”

And it added: “Mechanical Biological Treatment may be a suitable technology as an alternative to burning household waste.”

Labour leader Lesley Williams (Stonehouse) subsequently proposed an amended motion, omitting the reference to MBT and the outcome of the elections, which Conservative leader Mark Hawthorne (Quedgeley) said his party was prepared to back.

The revised motion, which was passed unanimously, called on the authority’s chief executive to “seek robust support to defend the unanimous planning committee decision in any appeal process that may take place in the future.”

It also said: “This Council should immediately establish a ‘Plan B’ cross-party working group to consider alternatives to the current proposals for a waste incinerator at Javelin Park.”

Sue Oppenheimer, chairman of GlosVAIN, said: “We are very pleased that there was enormous support to look again at options for waste and we hope that GCC will also approach UBB to assess whether they are prepared to look at other options which we understand the contract allows them to do.”

Speaking after the meeting Green Party Cllr Sarah Lunnon (Stroud Central) praised the new minority Conservative administration for seeking ‘to find a solution based on consensus rather than strong-arm tactics’.


© Copyright 2001-2013 Newsquest Media Group


Hong Kong can be recycling world leader


dynamco Jun 7th 2013

Actually13,500 TPD total waste/ 9,000 tpd MSW = 3,600 tpd food waste/ 3,500 tpd construction waste HKG has 30,000 tonnes construction waste/day of which 3500 gets buried
Dried super poo 950 tpd sludge 2b dewatered at Stonecutters then barged 24/7 to Tsang Tsui for incineration via diesel barges (cough, spit NOx SOx)
Cynics might say the previous Tsang/Yau maladministration deliberately did nothing to try + force the use of incineration + moved it to SWC since it was further away from Futian retirement palace.
Both should be up on Misconduct charges. The new ENB rightly wants to legislate waste charging + forced separation at source which sadly will be opposed by LongHair +Mad Dog crowd
+ filibustered; only rich people should pay waste charges according to those idiots. Why no waste charge on tourists?
Interim:-Sell the waste to Europe. They have 7 million tonnes incineration capacity + only 1.5 million tonnes MSW SINCE THEY ALREADY HAVE STRICT RECYCLING LAWS.
Or let Norway send ships here/give it to them free: their ancient system is setup to burn MSW for heat + electricity. Flanders has 73% recycling, San Francisco 77% + Capannori Italy 82%. HK Govt ostriches itself on modern incineration proven to kill people and children downwind whereas WSP UK environmental consultants for Western Australian EPA show proven + tested large scale gasification of MSW in Japan dating back years.
Blinkered inflexibility.

Friday, 07 June, 2013, 12:00am


I agree with the sentiments expressed in your leader (“Time to stop talking rubbish”, May 30) that serious action on Hong Kong’s waste problem is long overdue. However, I must point out that the Environmental Protection Department’s “blueprint” for doing so is far from convincing.

Despite plenty of high-minded rhetoric about changing Hong Kong’s mindset and behaviour pattern, there is nothing to suggest that department officials have changed their mindset in any way. The blueprint shows only a dogged pursuit of large-scale engineering projects instead of tackling the root causes of the waste disposal problem.

A careful reading of the report “Hong Kong: Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022” reveals that Hong Kong generates 1.36kg of waste per capita per day (about 9,500 tonnes overall) and of that figure, 1.27kg (or 9,000 tonnes), goes straight to landfill. In other words, the proportion of our waste that is actually being recycled today is less than 6 per cent. Of course the blueprint avoids mentioning this inconvenient fact, somehow conjuring up a figure of 48 per cent waste “recovery”, but we know from common-sense daily observation that the latter statistic is just not true.

An even more damning statistic is that a staggering 44 per cent of the waste that goes to landfill is food. That is 4,000 tonnes per day of precious natural resource simply being dumped. And how does the department propose to deal with this? Its plan is to reprocess a mere 500 tonnes (13 per cent) of it per day in two organic waste treatment facilities, to be built by 2017. Most of the rest will be burnt in an inappropriately sited giant incinerator.

There is no excuse for not having mandatory separation of food waste with modern collection and composting facilities throughout Hong Kong. We have the money to invest in such a network, and there should be many who would welcome the employment opportunities; and our natural environment would benefit from an abundant supply of fertiliser. We should be aiming for 100 per cent food waste reduction, recovery and recycling (RRR).

Given similar treatment for the other main categories of waste, paper (22 per cent) and plastic (19 per cent), there is no reason why Hong Kong cannot achieve overall waste reduction targets of 80 per cent or more.

The department should not be given its way to impose simplistic solutions involving land reclamation and mass-burn incineration. Instead, it should be directed to give us a truly world-class waste RRR system. That’s where the need for urgent action lies.

Louise Preston, chairman, Living Islands Movement


Waste treatment



Source URL (retrieved on Jun 7th 2013, 12:05pm):