Probe unearths no pollution
Updated: 2013-02-19 00:57
By Wu Wencong in Beijing and Wang Qian in Weifang, Shandong (China Daily)
A nearly weeklong government investigation into claims that Shandong province enterprises pump polluted water into the ground has still not uncovered any solid evidence that this happened, officials from local environmental departments said.
Allegations appeared on Sina Weibo on Feb 11 claiming that chemical plants and paper mills in Weifang, in East China's Shandong province, have been pumping wastewater 1,000 meters under the ground through high-pressure wells, polluting a large area of groundwater.
The posts attracted public concern and media attention soon after they were forwarded by Deng Fei, a member of the Phoenix Weekly editorial board, who has more than 2 million online followers.
The Weifang environmental protection bureau announced a hotline with a 100,000 yuan ($16,000) reward on Sunday to the first whistleblower who can prove the now widely circulated allegation.
"No one has called yet," Zhao Lei from the information office with the Weifang government told China Daily. He said he doubted anyone will call because what was described in the posts "is not happening here".
The official investigation began on Feb 13. A day later, an investigation team from the provincial environmental department was sent to Weifang and is still working there.
About 320 people checked 715 plants in two days, finding no clues or evidence that enterprises are pumping polluted water into the ground, according to the Weifang government's announcement.
Netizens have been joking about the startling speed and efficiency of the investigation, questioning its credibility.
But Zhao said the government has kept records of the inspectors, the enterprises checked and the results.
"We haven't processed the records yet," Zhao said. "It will be a lot of work since there are more than 700 enterprises involved."
Deng, who forwarded the posts online, also expressed his concern about the investigation's credibility.
He posted a link to the provincial environmental department's website on his micro blog Monday, which shows petition cases the department has dealt with in 2011. The first case in Weifang is about a chemical plant dumping polluted water into the ground through a well, affecting crops nearby.
Although an investigation result in this case was not found on the website, Deng still perceives the information as an official acknowledgment of such pollution in Weifang.
"Groundwater pollution is hard to notice compared with surface-water pollution. And local residents don't get easy access to the chemical plants for firsthand proof," said Deng.
"But they can tell that the water from the well tastes weird, and the rate of cancer in their villages is significantly high."
Zhu Chunquan, China program officer of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an international environmental NGO, said the Weifang government should ask local enterprises to publicize the records of the daily amount of wastewater and the method they have been using to treat it, and where they dump it.
Other environmental experts also suggested that officials should take water samples from the groundwater near the chemical plants, and compare laboratory test results with those of the plants' wastewater to see whether the two have the same ingredients.
"Pollution in groundwater in China is a fact and deserves attention from the government," Deng said.
Information published on the official website of the Land and Resources Ministry showed that groundwater in 129 cities out of the 196 cities investigated was found polluted, according to research by the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in 2006.
The main reason for groundwater pollution given by the ministry's website is the pumping of industrial sewage directly into the ground.
Deng said he has been receiving online messages tipping off groundwater pollution in several other cities in Shandong province, and even in other provinces since he forwarded the first post.
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