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China Unearths Toxic Landfill Scandal with Major Environmental and Public Health Ramifications

  •   1 Jan 2019
  •    Nadine He
  •    1318
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    • Chinese authorities unearthed a major environmental scandal involving the illegal use of thousands of tons of toxic waste materials in a land reclamation project in Taixing City, Jiangsu.

    In an attempt to defraud and financially benefit from a government funded land reclamation project, thousands of tons of hazardous waste were secretly transported into Taixing City, Jiangsu province and used as filling material. 30 suspects have been arrested and detained and will face criminal prosecution.

    In June 2018, the central fourth group of inspectors was stationed in Jiangsu province to carry out a “Look back” environmental inspection. Based on evidence supplied by a whistleblower on the illegal use of toxic waste in land reclamation projects, the inspection group alerted the Taixing Environmental Protection Bureau prompting a more vigorous investigation into the allegations. In the intervening months following the initiation of the investigation it was revealed that illegal use of toxic and hazardous waste had occurred in land reclamation projects in villages across Taixing City. Most of the 17 land parcels implicated were filled with the highly toxic solid waste material cyanamide.

    The 17 land reclamation projects have been underway for the last 3-4 years and encompass a total landmass of 100,000 cubic meters. For one land parcel in Xuezhuang Village, nearly 8,000 tons of chemical waste was used as materials for landfill and required the use of more than 500 vehicles to transport the material, meaning the illicit activities were conducted in full view of the public. In the wake of the revelations, local authorities have come under fire for their lax supervision and for greenlighting the project in the first place.

    The Taixing Environmental Protection Bureau commissioned a third-party organization to investigate several suspected solid waste landfills to clarify the types and quantities of hazardous waste. The polluted land parcels in question can be reclaimed and made safe, however, it will be costly to remedy the environmental damage that has already been done. For example, the land parcel in Xuezhuang Village will cost 30 to 40 million yuan.

    Land reclamation refers to returning disturbed lands to a utilizable state. Illegal disposal of hazardous waste as landfill materials is a threat to ecosystems and to human health. In 2011, the State promulgated and implemented the Regulation on Land Reclamation. Article 16 of the regulation clearly stipulates that those in charge of land reclamation shall establish a system to control the quality of land reclamation, observe the standards for land reclamation and environmental protection, protect soil and the broader ecosystem, and avoid soil and underground water pollution. Heavy metal pollutants or other toxic and harmful substances are prohibited from being used as filling materials.

    The increasing costs of compliance and the growing amounts of hazardous waste produced by many industry sectors, combined with the failure of government regulation, supervision and enforcement are the main causes behind the growth in illegal waste disposal. More recently, an alarming trend has emerged involving cooperation between industry and local criminals attempting to defraud government funded land reclamation projects, which is severely undermining efforts realize its environmental goals.

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