Poisoning the Pearl River

Feature Story - 2009-10-28
It’s not for nothing that the Pearl River Delta region is known as the ‘world’s factory floor.’ In 2007, 30 percent of China’s exports were made here. But, as a new Greenpeace China report finds out, the region is paying a deadly price in pollution.

Greenpeace's new report, Poisoning the Pearl, discovers loopholes in Chinese pollution law.

Our latest report, Poisoning the Pearl, reveals that gaps in pollution laws are allowing factories to empty a toxic cocktail of chemicals into a river that provides water to 47 million people.

Some of the chemicals aren't even mentioned in Chinese pollution law.

This pollution is causing irreversible damage to the Delta.

Read the report, Poisoning the Pearl, here.

What we did

Over the past year, Greenpeace collected and analysed 25 samples of wastewater discharges and sediments from five industrial sites in the region.

These sites are:

Kingboard (Fogang) Industrial Area, Kingboard (Panyu Nansha) Industrial Area, Wing Fung P.C. Board Co., Ltd  in Shenzhen, Dasha Industrial Area, Dalingshan Town, Dongguan, and Qingyuan Top Dragon Textile Co., Ltd, in Qingyuan city.

These companies are mainly involved in manufacturing laminates, circuit boards, printing and packaging, and textiles.

What we found

All five factory complexes were dumping wastewater containing chemicals with proven or suspected hazardous properties.

Some of these toxic chemicals include high levels of heavy metals such as beryllium, copper and manganese.

Manganese has been linked to brain damage.

We also found organic chemicals such as brominated flame retardants and bisphenol-A.

Hormone disrupting alkyl phenols - some of which are listed in the EU priority hazardous substances list, were also present.

A number of these hazardous substances are not yet regulated in China.

Samples from one of the sites, Kingboard Fogang, contained beryllium at 25 times the levels allowed by local regulations.

Samples from Wing Fung Printed Circuit Board Ltd. contained copper at 12 times the maximum allowable limit.

What we want to happen

Greenpeace is calling on industries to reduce and eliminate their use of hazardous chemicals by replacing them with safe alternatives.

We are also calling on the government to develop and implement stringent regulations to restrict and eliminate the release of hazardous chemicals.

Current Chinese regulations mainly covers conventional pollutants such as chemical oxygen demand and suspended solids.

To stop toxic water pollution it needs to get tough on hazardous chemicals too.

Second edition

Following the launch of the report, Greenpeace has been continually engaged in both email and face-to-face communication with the facilities mentioned in the report and relevant authorities.

From this discussion, it has come to light that one of the discharge pipes sampled-- discharging from the wall of Dongguan Cheongming Co. Ltd.--is in fact a composite discharge pipe that is shared between Cheongming and other industrial facilities located inside Dasha Industrial Area in Dalingshan Town, Dongguan City, Guangdong.

The second edition of our original report reflects this new information.