In the last two years, I have worked for the Toxics campaign conducting investigations and collecting samples. My work has taken me and my fellow colleagues to many cities in the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze River Delta, such as Hangzhou, Suzhou, Ningbo, Jiangmen, Zhongshan etc. Though many of these places are famed historic and cultural tourist destinations, we never went to any tourist sights, but rather spent all our time at colorfully polluted rivers. We listed to complaints and stories from villagers. I often thought to myself, “These are supposed to be some of the most scenic mountains and clearest water in China - how is it that they are now poisoned by industry and filled with sorrow?”

When we were taking samples early one morning along the Fenghua River in Ningbo, I could still smell the stinging stench of the chemical dyes despite wearing face masks and protective goggles. Seeing our gear, some of the people out for morning exercises stopped to comment. “It always stinks here every day,” the said, “The color of the wastewater changes throughout the day.” After a few words, they hurried off quickly, unwilling to linger by this dirty river.

Aside from occasional freight-carrying barges, there was little traffic on the river and no fishing boats. A couple of lonely white egrets, perched on the muddy banks at low tide, were the only signs of life on the river - no fishermen, tourists or playing children.

Rivers are often said to be the lifeblood of a city. Blood poisoning can kill people - so if rivers are poisoned, what happens to their cities?