China Environmental News Digest

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Pearl River: 'Neither black nor stinky'

July 14, 2006 Via Shanghaiist

pearlriver071406.jpgThe thought of hopping into the Huangpu gives Shanghaiist the heebie-jeebies. Admittedly, this is partly due to the nature of our day job, but ever since the Songhua River chemical spill last year, we've probably had a little too much exposure to China's overwhelming pollution problems. Since then, the media can't get enough of the ickiness of China's pollution problems, and basically has the greenlight to go crazy on reporting on the issue as the government continues its drive for "sustainable" growth (i.e. continued breakneck growth without screwing the environment too much more in the process).

But taking a dip into a major, disgustingly-polluted body of water is exactly what the governor of Guangdong Province and the mayor of Guangzhou did ... along with 3,500 other loyal citizens. Why? To prove that the Pearl River is now "neither black nor stinky" -- in certain sections -- after 30 years of being completely offensive:

More than 3,500 swimmers braved the murky waters of southern China's Pearl River in a campaign aimed at proving that the once badly polluted river has become cleaner, state press said.

But some swimmers were not impressed.

"Under the water, I could not see things 0.5 meters in front of me. And my eyes were uncomfortable," a swimmer surnamed Fan told Xinhua news agency.

The Pearl River, China's third largest, runs through Guangdong province, the powerhouse of the nation's export-oriented economy. It has suffered for decades from industrial pollution and raw untreated sewage.

We will refrain from commenting on the mental capacity of the above quoted swimmer who actually opened his/her eyes underwater. This swimathon was actually ordered by the outgoing party secretary of Guangzhou, who apparently was smart enough to depart for a new posting in Guizhou prior to the swim. The unlinkable South China Morning Post reported last week on the Yangcheng Evening News in Guangzhou which saw this departure as an opportunity to rag on the ill-advised plunge:

Guangzhou's Yangcheng Evening News went against the tide by panning a planned swimathon by 10,000 people in the Pearl River next week, trotting out experts to warn readers that diving in could make them sick.

The paper quoted Sun Yat-sen University No Hospital dermatologist Wan Miaojian warning people with open wounds to avoid swimming, but if they did they should shower after getting out.

The newspaper ran a detailed account of the experience of Guangdong Beauty and Hair Association chairwoman Ma Ya , who tested the water three times last week and advised swimmers to wear a diver's suit to protect themselves.

Ms Ma said she plunged in amid floating household waste and felt sticky when she got out. She came down with diarrhoea after accidentally swallowing a mouthful of water on her next swim, while her third plunge gave her an eye infection.

Blech. Shanghaiist won't linger on that thought of taking in a mouthful of Pearl River water. The Yangcheng Evening News goes on:

The swimathon was 'a meaningful one-off exercise' but 'doesn't mean that the water is clean', the newspaper quoted an unidentified environmental protection official as saying ... On the same page that it challenged the swimathon, the Yangcheng Evening News also reported that at an emergency meeting on Monday, the city government ordered a blackout on news of the swim.

A report released by the State Environmental Protection Administration showed the Pearl River's water quality was rated unsuitable for swimming between June 26 and July 2.

According to the AFP story, even the governor of the province noted that "water along parts of the river remains too polluted to swim in and that this year's crossing was scheduled at the height of the rainy season which ensured cleaner water." Good thing that whole original crew of 10,000 didn't show up to try and cram into that "black nor stinky" section of the river.

Photo from Steven Schroeder.

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