MAC: Mines and Communities

Poisonous chromium is blighting 12 Chinese provinces

Published by MAC on 2011-09-12
Source: China Daily, Global Times, Caixin (2011-09-05)

But villagers destroy illegal rare earth mines in Guangdong

A 5,000 tonne stockpile of highly toxic chromium wastes was recently discovered, dumped around a factory  in China's Yunnan province. 

But this is only the tip of a massive problem: according to Greenpeace, no fewer than a million tonnes of the poisonous material still remain to be cleaned up around the country.

When residents in Guangdong province found fish and shrimps dead in their water supplies, they attributed the killings to local rare earths' mining.

In order to halt the pollution, two thousand villagers then took to streets, smashing equipment, burning work sheds and destroying at least ten of the mines.

Huge stockpile of toxic waste in 12 provinces

By Zhou Wenting

China Daily

31 August 2011

One million tons of untreated toxic industrial waste are piling up across China, risking environmental disasters like the recently exposed case in Yunnan province, a non-governmental organization has warned.

Earlier this month it was revealed that more than 5,000 tons of chromium residue were illegally dumped on roadsides and in mountains by a chemical factory in Yunnan's Qujing city, causing the deaths of 77 head of livestock.

Official tests found "excessive sexivalent chromium" in water in the area where the waste was dumped.

Tests of the groundwater near the factory by Greenpeace, an environmental protection organization, showed that the concentration of sexivalent chromium in the water was 242 times the national standard.

Chromium residue is a heavy metal and hazardous waste residue generated in the production of chromium metal and chromium salt.

Hexavalent compounds in the residue are the most toxic. The soluble and unstable chemical may cause health problems, such as kidney and liver damage, after entering human bodies through respiration, the skin, mucous membranes and digestion of food.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, lists these compounds as carcinogenic for humans.

A national remediation scheme for chromium residue pollution in 2005 showed more than 4 million tons of the chemical had been stockpiled untreated in 19 provinces. This led to official demands that the waste be disposed of safely by the end of 2010.

"Most of the waste was not properly disposed of, but directly discharged into the environment. Some of it was even dumped in important water sources and densely populated areas," reported the scheme published on the website of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planning agency.

It also said without decontamination, chromium residue had seriously polluted surface water, groundwater and soil, and posed a huge threat to people's lives and property.

According to the 2010 Report on the State of the Environment in China, 3 million tons of the residue in seven provinces have been treated, which means there are still 1 million tons left untreated in 12 provinces.

Wang Peilin, deputy secretary-general of the China Inorganic Salts Industry Association, said in previous interviews the figure was 1.3 million tons.

"This Yunnan incident also confirmed that disposal of the waste was not completed by 2010, and was a warning for other businesses which had not completed their disposal tasks. We can no longer be sluggish in the management of waste," she said.

Official data shows China is the world's largest producer and consumer of chromium with an annual production capacity of more than 300,000 tons. The chemical is widely used for the manufacture of stainless steel, leather and bicycle parts.

"Due to outdated technology, 3 to 5 tons of hexavalent chromium are generated when producing 1 ton of chromium," said Ma Tianjie, senior toxics prevention campaigner at Greenpeace.

He said this latest contamination incident once again showed the dangers of the development model of "pollution first, treatment later".

The organization urged the government to conduct an immediate nationwide evaluation of the surrounding environment where the waste is stored, and to use all possible means to prevent the public from being exposed to the contamination.


Mine Games

By Pang Qi

Global Times

5 September 2011

Every summer in the small town of Luhe county children would play and fish in clean water, as the sun would shine upon a healthy and rippling stream.

It's a scene that has pleased residents for ages in the hill-surrounded county of South China's Guangdong Province.

However, local residents realized those days were over when this past spring a large number of fish and shrimp were found dead not only in their favorite stream, but also in the Xinkeng reservoir, the stream's origin.

The residents attributed the death of the marine life to the pollution the reservoir has faced from local rare earth mining, which has almost depleted the lush vegetation that once covered the hills and has now polluted nearby waters through the discharge of unprocessed waste.

"Now that the water in the stream has been polluted, the fish and shrimp can no longer survive, and it's the result of the illegal mining," said a man surnamed Zhang who owns a small shop in the town. He also added that villagers now have to find their drinking water from other sources.

Rare earth excavation in Luhe county started around the end of last year, when a large number of mine owners from Jiangxi Province ventured to the small town and started working in the mining fields without a license, according to the Shanghai Morning Post.

All of the rare earth gathered during this time were later shipped to Japan, one of the biggest rare earth consumers in the world, according to Nanfang Daily.

However, the massive mining projects in Luhe county for some reason did not catch the attention of local authorities as the mines were allowed to smoothly operate.

"Without ‘government insiders' in the village or any protection from the town and county, the illegal miners wouldn't dare use large equipment to get the rare minerals," Xinhua News Agency quoted an anonymous head of Jiexi county in Guangdong Province.

Fighting back

While local authorities turned a blind eye to the illegal mining, local villagers decided to do just the opposite.

On August 5, residents from the villages of Xiatang and Nanmenjiang established a patrol; guarding the road 24 hours a day so as to intercept vehicles carrying raw materials used for rare earth mining.

In order to stop further mining, over 2,000 local villagers took to the streets with hoes, smashing equipment and burning work sheds at the mines, according to Nanfang Daily. 10 days later, the crowd had destroyed at least ten illegal mines, the report said.

Composed of 17 chemical elements, rare earth minerals are widely found in many products, such like cellphone and airplane.

Wang Yan, a deputy editor-in-chief of the China Rare Earth Information bulletin, told the Global Times that the illegal mining of rare earth, especially in southern China, results in vegetation damage due to inadequate mining methods.

"In the past, many illegal mining operations used old mining methods such as hauling off large tracks of land," she said.

China has one third of the world's rare earth reserves and produces more than 90 percent of the world's rare earth metals every year.

New restrictions

This output has prompted the Chinese government to place restrictions on rare earth mining due to environmental pollution concerns.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology ordered in May that new rare earth mining applications would not be accepted or approved, and mines currently in operation would be prohibited from expanding, according to a report by the China Securities Journal.

Unfortunately the new order has failed to curb the presence of illegal mines as a number of rare earth mines have sprung up in provinces such as Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong, the Nanfang Daily reported.

"There must be a reason for such a risk, just like drug trafficking. Money is behind it," Wang said, adding the soaring prices in recent years.

With soaring market prices, buyers like Japan which depends on China's rare earth exports have been found turning to illegal channels to purchase rare earth.

Yao Jian, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said November last year that China exported 32,200 tons of rare earth during the first nine months of 2010, of which 16,000 tons went to Japan, a 167 percent increase from the same period in 2009, Xinhua reported.

But according to Wang, presentations later made by Japanese enterprises during international rare earth meetings showed that certain amounts of rare earth had been smuggled out of China and into Japan each year through "unofficial channels."

"The information on rare earth imports found at Japanese Customs is not in accordance with the export amount found at Chinese Customs," Wang said, adding that both governments have reinforced their strength in controlling the illegal mining of rare earth, and departments have now joined together to combat such activities.


The Poisoning of the Nanpan River Basin

By staff reporters Yu Dawei, Zhang Yanling and intern reporter Qu Yunxu

Caixin

1 September  2011

Chromium pollution on Pearl River Tributary has killed a number of livestock in Yunnan Province, and continues to contaminate water supplies

In Sanbao Town, the water isn't safe to drink anymore. After a light rain on June 11, Lu Jicai took his sheep into the mountains, located by the Nanpan River Basin. The sheep drank from a pond and soon began bleating. That night, Lu's wife made an inventory. Of the 51 sheep on the mountain that day, 38 had died and 13 were on the verge of death. A veterinarian at the local Animal Husbandry Station determined that the sheep had been poisoned.

After discovering that the chromium slag had been dumped in Sanbao, Qujing environmental authorities discovered more chromium slag heaps in nearby towns and villages, a total of more than 5,000 tons. The investigation found that the toxic waste had been dumped on the banks of the river by two men working for an unlicensed waste disposal company that were contracted by a chemical manufacturer to transport and process the waste.

An investigation by the local environmental protection bureau found that the sheep had been poisoned with hexavalent chromium. Hexavalent chromium is easily absorbed by the body, causing vomiting, abdominal pain, dermatitis and eczema. Short-term and long-term contact or inhalation poses a cancer risk. At the pond where the sheep drank, investigators found numerous pieces of black chromium slag. In the rain, the highly toxic elements in the slag had washed into the pond.

More chromium slag was discovered in the mountains of Zhangjiaying Village in the following month.

Pollution Out of Control

On August 13, a notice from the Qujing government stated that the illegally dumped chromium slag had come from Yunnan Luliang Chemical Industry. The company had signed a chromium slag transport agreement with Guizhou Xingyi Sanli Fuel. To save on transportation costs, two transport workers from the company, Wu Xinghuai and Liu Xingshui, dumped more than 140 trucks worth of highly toxic chromium slag in the mountains near Qujing, a total of 5,222 tons.

Luliang Chemical is the only chromium chemical production company in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi Provinces. A large amount of chromium slag is generated in the production process, most of which is simply piled on the ground around the plant.

When open chromium dumps are soaked with rain and snow, the hexavalent chromium leaches into groundwater or rivers. Since the 1950s, some 70 sodium chromate chemical companies have been founded in China, all of which have been very profitable but created serious pollution.

In the 1980s and 90s, the Chinese government began attaching importance to controls on chromium slag pollution. The government overhauled the chromium salt industry, progressively shutting down or merging more than 40 chromium salt enterprises. But even after the factories were shuttered, the "orphan" slag heaps remained. More than six million tons of chromium slag remains in some 20 Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Tianjin.

In 2005, the State Council issued a nationwide notice requiring that all historical stockpiles of chromium slag be safely disposed of by the completion of the 11th Five-Year Plan. But to date, this task remains incomplete.

When processing hazardous waste, if the waste needs to be transported out of the factory area, a qualified disposal company must first be found and environmental authorities must write out a receipt of the transaction.

Luliang Chemical President Tang Zaiyang says that the slagheap has been around since the factory's founding more than 20 years ago. In order to speed up its processing, Luliang Chemical began looking for a company able to treat the chromium slag earlier this year.

Luliang Vice President Zuo Xianglin, who handled the matter, showed Caixin a "Chromium Slag Supply Contract," which stated that Guizhou Sanli would be responsible for transporting and treating the chromium slag. Luliang Chemical undertook the 100-yuan per ton freight fee. If an accident occurred during the transport process, Guizhou Sanli would be responsible.

"This is an invalid contract!" a worker at the Qujing Prefecture Environmental Protection Bureau told Caixin. The reason: Guizhou Sanli is not certified to dispose of chromium slag.

A higher-up at Guizhou Sanli surnamed Xu told Caixin that the contract showed only "intent." "Later we discovered we couldn't do the safety treatment. The cost was too high. There was also no value in refining it. Afterward, we just didn't pick it up. The contract was not implemented, and we didn't send trucks."

Unemployed farmers Wu and Liu occasionally heard a friend, who drove a loader for Luliang Chemical, say that there was a lot of slag at the factory that needed to be transported out, that the factory paid for the transport, and the slag could then be sold. Wu thought the business could be lucrative, so he took over the business from his friend.

According to Liu's account to public security officials, the two discovered that Luliang Chemical's 100 yuan per ton freight fee was insufficient to cover costs. The two decided simply to dump the slag and pocket the 100 yuan per ton. Wu and Liu hired 11 drivers to take the more than 5,000 tons of slag into the mountains. The two pocketed 65 yuan per ton after other costs. Both were later arrested.

When the cleanup was completed on June 17, the Qujing government said that 9,130 tons of slag and polluted soil had been cleared and returned to the special dumpsite at Luliang Chemical.

According to the Yunnan Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau, no hexavalent chromium has been detected in the water where the Nanpan exits Yunnan.

But a survey conducted by the Chinese office of the international environmental protection group Greenpeace on water quality in areas around the factory found high concentrations of the toxic chemical hexavalent chromium in groundwater near the chromium dumps.

According to the group's report published on August 30, groundwater in the southeast of Luliang Chemical was found to contain hexavalent chromium 242 times above the safety standard. The level was 126 times above the safety standard for water in rice paddies within the region, while concentrations in the Nanpan River near the factory, where farmers draw water for irrigation, were also two times higher than the standard.

Prevalence of Cancer

Around Xinglong, Caixin reporters noted other polluting industries in the Luliang Chemical factory area, including paper mills and smelters. The Nanpan River, which flows through the region, is a main tributary of the Pearl River in Guangdong Province. A polluted Nanpan would directly affect the downstream water quality in Guangdong and the Pearl River Basin.

In 2007, former village party secretary for Xinglong Village drafted a resolution stating that the number of cancer patients in Xinglong was on the rise due to booming industrial pollution.

But officials from the Luliang County Environmental Protection Bureau said that while water and air quality did not meet standards, a higher incidence in cancer rates could not be linked to discharge from nearby factories.

Villager Wang Kongxiang told Caixin that the number of cancer cases in the village had increased sharply in recent years. The people there mainly drink river water and well water. "The water in the Nanpan stinks. We're afraid even to use it for farming. The pollution is plain to see." Wang said.

Xinglong originally produced high-quality rice, livestock and fruits. Today, not only is production rapidly declining, but villagers cannot sell their products.

"We use the Nanpan to irrigate our crops here. We don't eat them ourselves. We sell them all to people in the city and officials to eat." said a villager named Yuan Chaoqi.


Mine Games

By Pang Qi

Global Times

5 September 2011

Every summer in the small town of Luhe county children would play and fish in clean water, as the sun would shine upon a healthy and rippling stream.

It's a scene that has pleased residents for ages in the hill-surrounded county of South China's Guangdong Province.

However, local residents realized those days were over when this past spring a large number of fish and shrimp were found dead not only in their favorite stream, but also in the Xinkeng reservoir, the stream's origin.

The residents attributed the death of the marine life to the pollution the reservoir has faced from local rare earth mining, which has almost depleted the lush vegetation that once covered the hills and has now polluted nearby waters through the discharge of unprocessed waste.

"Now that the water in the stream has been polluted, the fish and shrimp can no longer survive, and it's the result of the illegal mining," said a man surnamed Zhang who owns a small shop in the town. He also added that villagers now have to find their drinking water from other sources.

Rare earth excavation in Luhe county started around the end of last year, when a large number of mine owners from Jiangxi Province ventured to the small town and started working in the mining fields without a license, according to the Shanghai Morning Post.

All of the rare earth gathered during this time were later shipped to Japan, one of the biggest rare earth consumers in the world, according to Nanfang Daily.

However, the massive mining projects in Luhe county for some reason did not catch the attention of local authorities as the mines were allowed to smoothly operate.

"Without ‘government insiders' in the village or any protection from the town and county, the illegal miners wouldn't dare use large equipment to get the rare minerals," Xinhua News Agency quoted an anonymous head of Jiexi county in Guangdong Province.

Fighting back

While local authorities turned a blind eye to the illegal mining, local villagers decided to do just the opposite.

On August 5, residents from the villages of Xiatang and Nanmenjiang established a patrol; guarding the road 24 hours a day so as to intercept vehicles carrying raw materials used for rare earth mining.

In order to stop further mining, over 2,000 local villagers took to the streets with hoes, smashing equipment and burning work sheds at the mines, according to Nanfang Daily. 10 days later, the crowd had destroyed at least ten illegal mines, the report said.

Composed of 17 chemical elements, rare earth minerals are widely found in many products, such like cellphone and airplane.

Wang Yan, a deputy editor-in-chief of the China Rare Earth Information bulletin, told the Global Times that the illegal mining of rare earth, especially in southern China, results in vegetation damage due to inadequate mining methods.

"In the past, many illegal mining operations used old mining methods such as hauling off large tracks of land," she said.
China has one third of the world's rare earth reserves and produces more than 90 percent of the world's rare earth metals every year.

New restrictions

This output has prompted the Chinese government to place restrictions on rare earth mining due to environmental pollution concerns.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology ordered in May that new rare earth mining applications would not be accepted or approved, and mines currently in operation would be prohibited from expanding, according to a report by the China Securities Journal.

Unfortunately the new order has failed to curb the presence of illegal mines as a number of rare earth mines have sprung up in provinces such as Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong, the Nanfang Daily reported.

"There must be a reason for such a risk, just like drug trafficking. Money is behind it," Wang said, adding the soaring prices in recent years.

With soaring market prices, buyers like Japan which depends on China's rare earth exports have been found turning to illegal channels to purchase rare earth.

Yao Jian, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said November last year that China exported 32,200 tons of rare earth during the first nine months of 2010, of which 16,000 tons went to Japan, a 167 percent increase from the same period in 2009, Xinhua reported.

But according to Wang, presentations later made by Japanese enterprises during international rare earth meetings showed that certain amounts of rare earth had been smuggled out of China and into Japan each year through "unofficial channels."

"The information on rare earth imports found at Japanese Customs is not in accordance with the export amount found at Chinese Customs," Wang said, adding that both governments have reinforced their strength in controlling the illegal mining of rare earth, and departments have now joined together to combat such activities.

Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info