China’s Dirty Soil

Christina Larson notes that, despite the attention paid to air and water pollution in China, there is another source of pollution about which we know very little:

[I]nformation about soil pollution remains a “state secret.” Or at least that’s what Beijing lawyer Dong Zhengwei was told when he recently requested data from a government survey conducted in 2006 by the environmental ministry and China’s ministry of land and resources. …

Soil pollution has thus far received fairly limited public attention in China. “You can see with your own eyes when the air is smoggy, or see when the color of a river is wrong, but for soil pollution you need special equipment to check the levels of various elements,” says Chen Nengchang, a scientist at the Guangdong Institute of Eco-environmental and Soil Sciences. Yet, he cautions, the rampant overuse of fertilizer and pesticides in cropland and the seeping of heavy metals—such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium—from factories, smelters, and mines into the ground threaten the safety of China’s food supply.

Fallows recently wondered if such pollution might be causing developmental problems for Chinese children.