Abandoned Steel Mills Threaten Public Health

Falling prices, weak demand and mounting debt in China’s steel industry have led to a series of closures and mergers in recent years, leaving many mills abandoned. At China Dialogue, Gao Shengke reports that health risks to local residents can linger long after steel plants are closed unless the sites receive proper environmental restoration.

Research has shown that while air pollution reduces after a mill closes, soil and groundwater pollution persists, and health risks to locals continue to increase. There is currently no nationwide list of such sites, much less any restoration. But the problem exists in the -producing regions of Beijing, Hebei, Liaoning, Hubei, Zhejiang and Chongqing.

[…] Small and medium-sized facilities have long operated without water treatment plants, or even water storage ponds; even if some water can be reclaimed for industrial use the rest has to be released, into dry river beds or village ponds in the village, from where it pollutes groundwater. The water source in the village of Xiaodun in Tangshan is thought to be polluted, but nobody has investigated.

Zhao Ke, an engineer with CISDI Engineering, researches groundwater pollution caused by the steel industry. He said that the most dangerous waste water comes from the coking and cold-rolling processes. That water contains harmful substances such as phenols, hydrides, heavy metals, and acids and alkalis. The waste water seeps into the groundwater and pollutes local sources of drinking water. [Source]

Also see an earlier CDT report on China’s “cancer villages”.