In addition to working in political level to address China's water pollution problems, Greenpeace also visits areas to record the stories of people directly harmed by water pollution. With your support, you can help us do more to solve the water pollution crisis!
Our 1st Story: Wearing Water Pollution (Author: Zhao Yan, Greenpeace Campaigner)
This is a satellite picture from Google Earth. It is hard to imagine that this appalling polluted water situation could be physically so close to us, and so directly related to our daily lives. What could have caused this river to be so polluted?
Greenpeace members travelled to the city shown in the above photograph, and discovered that every river there was drowned in the deep dark blue color of water pollution.
There, almost every family was engaged in industry related to jeans production.
Greenpeace soon discovered that black dyes used to color jeans had caused the rivers to turn dark blue. Besides the hand-making process of producing jeans shown in the image, Greenpeace found that the entire process of manufacturing jeans that turned denim fabric to the finished jean product was found in the city. We believe that the work processes most responsible for the polluting the river was the dyeing and washing of jeans.
Outside the door of a factory were many jean fabrics that had yet to be dyed black. Trash bins near the road were stacked full of waste by-products of the jean production process, and beside these trash bins flowed the dark blue polluted river.
We saw advertisements of models wearing jeans of all styles and shapes, and in the background, flowed the river, polluted dark blue by jean dyes.
And in this environment, we saw a little boy like this growing up, and we thought to ourselves: the answer to whether this boy would be attracted to the kind of beauty proclaimed by the jean advertisements would certainly be different from the adults.
It is hard to imagine that this appalling polluted water situation is so directly related to our daily lives. But the picture of women washing clothes beside the polluted river, and our own consumption of these products, brings this relationship into stark relief. In a sense, we are wearing the dyes of water pollution. As such, the problem of water pollution is not far away from us, and it is up to us to solve this pressing and urgent crisis.
Our 2nd Story: Drinking Polluted Water (Author: Wang Yamin, Greenpeace Media Officer)
In the district of Shawan, located in Panyu, Guangzhou, there is a water plant providing Panyu and Nansha's 1 million inhabitants with drinking water. The water plant gets its water from the Shawan channel, which flows out from the Pearl River. About 1.5 kilometers from where water is collected, we found a medium-sized industrial area.
We had actually been there twice before. Beside the factory was a large expanse of vegetable fields and banana trees. To the side of the vegetable field, shockingly deep orange-colored polluted water flowed out from a drainpipe.
It turned out that like how plants change their colors with the changing seasons, polluted water did the same as well. In the months of our investigation that followed, we found that the polluted water flowing out from the drainpipe changed color to a deep black color, with a layer of oil suspended on the water's surface.
This polluted water flowed into a nearby river channel, from which the surrounding villagers drew water to irrigate their crops.
We interviewed a man who had planted vegetables, and he said that the discharge of polluted waters was especially severe during the night or the weekends. When he had seen the black polluted waters flowing into the river channels, they did not dare to use the water to irrigate their crops, and instead waited for a few days later for cleaner waters to appear. The man added that although this river was small, it ultimately flowed downstream to the Shawan river channel, which more than 1 million people relied upon for drinking water.
The man went on to add that his family ate the vegetables that he had planted, and any excess vegetables were sold at the market. When I thought about eating plants that had been grown in such polluted water, I started to feel anxious. Think about it, this was a place that was just 1.5 kilometers from where the water plant collected water!
This was not the only industrial park in the surrounding area, as we saw many more similar medium sized parks, with surrounding housing communities. When we searched the keywords “Panyu”, “Shawan” and “Industrial district” on Google, we found the following industrial district names: Sanshan, Guxi, Chenchong, Longwan, Chaohe, Dongchun, and Xichun. We wondered what we might have found at the industrial districts that we did not visit.
Not long after, when we thought about the Chinese phrases “sweeping river channels”, “brilliant golden fields under a setting sun”, and “abundant bounty” that had been used in the past to describe the beauty of this area in the past. If the meandering water channels of the Pearl River delta were to be now recklessly poisoned by the industrial wastewater, would the phrase “sweeping river channels” come to take on a much more sinister and tragic definition?
Our 3rd Story: Dirty Tricks (Author: Edward Chan, Greenpeace Campaign Manager)
Every time we took water samples from pipes emitting polluted water, we calmly take a step-by-step approach to our work, in order to guarantee the scientific accuracy of our research.
But no matter what, taking a water samples always heightened our nerves and senses, as we were bearing witness to the grave problems of water pollution, and with our water samples, had clear evidence of the industrial water pollution that no factories could ever deny.
Some factories, in order to hide from the scrutiny of officials, dumped pollutants into the water at nightfall or on public holidays. As a result, we need to make adequate preparations when doing our water sample surveys, in order to understand these illegal dumping practices, and also to retrieve the most accurate evidence of industrial dumping. Around some of the factory areas, we found waterways and gully soil banks that had been so polluted by impurities that they had changed color.
At such factories, we had to do our investigation during different times of the day, in order to conclude when the factories dump their waste into the water. For example, on one occasion, we visited factory during the day, which showed that no pollutants were being dumped into a nearby drain. However, after much discussion, we decided to launch an investigation at night, and our suspicions proved to be valid. The drain, which was so dry during the day, became filled with toxic and sickening brownish yellow colored water at night. Our subsequent water sample Ph tests revealed that the water was extremely acidic. This blatantly irresponsible secret dumping of toxic water during the night made us bristle with anger.
At some other factories,which may have a good relation with official, we found evidences of large scale dumping of toxic water. When we did our investigation, we found that they released wastewater at 11am in the morning, 4pm in the afternoon and 11pm at night. The water in the drains looked and smelled as terrible as described above. And with these concrete drains measuring half a meter in diameter, just can't imagine how much toxic and polluted water was bring released into the rivers every year!
Taking water samples is a tough job, which consists of waking up early, running to the factories, and searching high and wide for hidden pipes discharging toxic wastewater. In order to avoid factory security or to capture factory wastewater discharge, we sometimes had to take samples during lunchtime or in the middle of the night. But no matter when or how, every time I climbed onto the banks of a river that had been polluted, and felt the temperature of the toxic water, and faced the stench that stung my nose, I took comfort in the fact that our work was making a difference.
Obviously, I look forward to the day when there are no factories dumping pollutants in our rivers, and when I will no longer need to take water samples. After all, compared to this, exploring and appreciating the beauty of nature in the countryside is so much enjoyable!
Greenpeace members will continue to explore China's most important river areas, conduct more investigations and researches into areas affected by water pollution, and deeply understand the dangers poised to innocent victims of this environmental crisis.
With your donation of just HK$ 3 a day, you can help continue our work, towards fulfilling China's wish for clean drinking water.
Our 4th Story: Investigating Skills on Paper (Author: Zhao Yan, Greenpeace Campaigner)
Doing a field study in China is not the most difficult task for Greenpeace Water Pollution team, but it is not the same for the specific investigative techniques that we need to employ to get reliable findings. Unless factories go to extraordinary lengths to hide illegal wastewater discharge, finding these cases of dumping is not difficult, especially if we had the following tools to aid us in our investigation
Having a helicopter would certainly good in our investigation of large industrial areas that are hidden among endless plains of agriculture, and remain inaccessible due to the lack of roads. Instead of driving miles after miles over a week in search of illegal waste dumping into the rivers, it would be so much easier if we could conduct our surveys from a helicopter, which would allow us to identify and investigate problem areas more effectively.
Even if we had a helicopter, not all problems would be solved. Many factories discharge wastewater into parts of the river, which are in far-off locations, inaccessible due to the lack of roads. And even if we had a helicopter to take us to these locations, the most able helicopter pilot would find it impossible to keep us elevated above the water surface for us to check the level of water pollution. Instead, what we need is a very fast speedboat! If we did have one, the only problem remaining would be how to decide a pathway to check every one of China's myriad of channels, gulleys and streams.
Diving boat and scuba diving equipment
To investigate industrial pipes that are located completely underwater, only a combination of a diving boat, with scuba diving equipment would allow us to do a complete investigation. Whenever we are faced with this situation, we shudder to imagine what kind of industrial discharge could have spurred factories to locate these pipes in these hidden locations. As a result, even if we did have the necessary equipment to conduct our investigation, we would not take the exercise of entering these toxic waters lightly.
Compared to the abovementioned equipment, a pair of stilts would also allow us to investigate the countryside, and would be relatively cheaper, stronger, and more portable. Stilts would allow us to deal with muddy agricultural fields, conquer shallow bodies of water, and protect our shoes from dirty animal wastes. If we are lucky and the factory walls are not too high, we could even cross over into the factories to understand the internal workings of the organization, and to better predict the location of discharge pipes. Even though, we have never used this tool for our investigation, it certainly has some potential from a cost-effectiveness perspective!
In reality, we do not have any of these high-tech tools at our disposal, and except for the occasional car or boat ride, we traverse to most of these difficult-to-reach locations on foot to take water samples and take photos. The hurdles we face are not limited to our lack of equipment; our limited knowledge of the local environment also exacerbates our difficulties.