River water turned red in an eastern Chinese city in recent days, sparking fears of another environmental crisis in China. The incident is just the latest in a series of environmental scares for people in China.
Late last week, residents in Wenzhou, China, awoke to find the river running through their city a crimson shade of red. Some also complained of an acrid smell in the air. The local environmental protection bureau investigated the incident and said they found no sign of discharge from the factories that line the river, including a paper manufacturer, food coloring company and clothing-maker.
Yixiu Wu, who tracks water pollution issues for Greenpeace, said even though the cause of the river water contamination has not been found, it is a sign of environmental problems increasingly impacting urban residents. “I think the water pollution problem, it’s no longer a remote problem, only in the countryside," he said. "It’s affecting everyone. Even people in the cities.”
Wenzhou is a center for commerce on China’s eastern coast. It is also a center of Christian faith in China and is often referred to as China’s Jerusalem. After the river water turned red some residents posted on social media that the crimson waters were a sign of Armageddon - an event described in the (Christian) Bible as marking the end of the world.
While the river contamination may not be the sign of the end of times, environmentalist Ma Jun said it signifies a crucial time in China’s fight against pollution.
“So I think the next 20 years will be quite critical. The government needs to make efforts to reduce pollution to provide a safe and healthy environment for this generation,” Ma stated.
The river water change is the latest of several environmental incidents in China. In 2012, the Yangtze river also turned red from illegal dumping by a nearby factory, and last year more than 2,000 dead pigs were found floating through a river in Shanghai. China’s government has also identified several hundred so called “cancer villages,” where the rates of cancer are unusually high due to industrial pollution.
Pollution, a growing problem
Ma said there are more than 1,700 water pollution incidents in China every year.
“China is facing a serious water pollution challenge. Much of our rivers, lakes and even our aquifers are polluted. Especially in the densely populated regions. This has posed a serious risk. Up to 300 million residents don’t have access to safe drinking water,” said Ma.
Earlier this year Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed to wage war on pollution. Environmental activists say that war will depend on enforcement of existing Chinese laws, which would be welcomed by the residents of Wenzhou, where 80 percent of the water off of the city’s coast is considered polluted.