Weibo Users Call Out Water Pollution

Zhejiang entrepreneur Jin Zengmin has offered a reward to a senior Chinese official if he swims in a polluted river for 20 minutes, according to the South China Morning Post’s Chris Luo:

“If the environmental protection bureau chief dares to swim in [Ruian's] river for 20 minutes, I will pay [him] 200,000 yuan [HK$246,000],” Jin wrote on Sina Weibo.

In three photos Jin posted, a river in small-town Ruian is seen entirely blocked by floating rubbish. Jin blamed a rubber overshoe factory for dumping industrial waste into the river.

This river was where villagers used to wash vegetables and clothes in his childhood, Jin told Chinanews.com.

Asked for comment, Ruian’s environmental protection bureau chief, Bao Zhenmin, acknowledged the river was polluted, the report said. But he said the rubbish is from people, and not factories.

“Overpopulation of this region is the main reason behind the pollution…[The population] has largely exceeded the local environment’s capacity,” Bao told Chinanews.com.

Jin’s push in Zhejiang comes as activist web users accused factories in Shandong province of intentionally dumping waste into rivers, according to Li Jing at the South China Morning Post:

It all started with a microblog post exposing factories in Shandong that injected toxic waste water underground, and evolved into an online campaign to uncover pollution scandals as people returning home from cities for the holiday encountered unbearable levels of water contamination.

Deng Fei , a social activist who helped initiate the campaign, said some journalists and lawyers had mobilised to investigate clues offered by microbloggers, adding that several members of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference had expressed interest in looking into the problems.

The first post, published on Tuesday on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, said some chemical plants in Weifang – which were preparing for initial public offerings – had been secretly discharging untreated waste water deep underground, using high-pressure injection wells to avoid supervision.

It has been reposted by about 50,000 microbloggers.

Tea Leaf Nation’s Liz Carter writes that the issue has become the number-one trending topic on Sina Weibo:

News broke on social media that not only were companies polluting the water, but were intentionally pumping wastewater into the ground through high-pressure pipes in order to avoid complying with regulations. The polluted water has caused cancer in many nearby residents, according to reports, and affected the development of local children. A company in Weifang, Shandong was implicated when a journalist travelled there to cover the story.

In a post deleted by censors on Sina Weibo, a lawyer named Gan Yuanchun described how officials from Weifang, Shandong sent some of their subordinates to Beijing to prevent media from breaking the news. China Central Television (CCTV)’s coverage of the story was shelved. and the journalist who traveled to Weifang is still being held there involuntarily. Gan Yuanchun wrote in a follow-up post, “Weifang: You think that by harmonizing [censoring] CCTV, you can cover up the truth about #UndergroundWaterPollution? And you’re still trying to help this kind of soulless company complete its IPO? You must be dreaming!!”

The state-run Global Times reported that the online outcry in Weifang prompted a response from local authorities, who offered rewards to any whistle-blower whose tips proved accurate, and Ernest Kao and the South China Morning Post reports that an editorial in the Beijing News last week urged officials to tackle the water pollution issue:

Beijing’s official mouthpiece called for a “declaration of war” in the new Lunar Year on “unscrupulous enterprises” engaged in the illegal and often secretive discharge of untreated waste into waterways. It urged the public and netizens to help.

The editorial said local governments were only compounding the problem by upholding lax environmental regulations and shielding “superstar” companies, deemed too important, from punishment.

“The reason why groundwater pollution has long been ignored is that the vast majority of contamination cases occur in rural counties, where farmers lack the right to speak out,” it said.

The editorial said the fundamental problem lay in governance – or lack of it – and encouraged the public to “take action to investigate and expose any of those unscrupulous companies”. It also called on “the relevant parties” to encourage supervision and ensure citizen activist channels are unimpeded”.

See also recent CDT coverage of water pollution in China, including an accident at a chemical plant which caused the contamination of a river in northern Shanxi province.