China’s government says in a report that nearly one-fifth of the country’s farmland is polluted, mostly from years-long accumulations of toxins from factories, mining and agriculture.
The report raises sharp concerns about the country’s food safety after years of unbridled industrialisation.
Results of a nationwide survey of soil samples taken from 2005 through last year show contamination in 16.1 per cent of the country’s soil overall and 19.4 per cent of its arable land.
More than 80 per cent of the pollution is the result of inorganic toxins, with the top three identified as cadmium, nickel and arsenic.
The results were released jointly by China’s Environmental Protection Ministry and its Land and Resources Ministry.
“The overall condition of the Chinese soil allows no optimism,” said the report, posted on the environment ministry website.
“Some regions suffer serious soil pollution underscored by worrying farm land quality and prominent problems with deserted industrial and mining land.”
The report confirms widespread concerns about the safety of China’s soil following decades of explosive growth in the country’s industry, the overuse of farm chemicals and lax environmental enforcement which have left vast swathes of the countryside tainted.
The worst pollution centres around the country’s most industrialised regions, the Yangtse and Pearl River deltas in southern China and heavily industrial portions of the northeast, the report said.
A key concern among scientists is cadmium, a carcinogenic metal that can cause kidney damage and other health problems and is absorbed by rice, the country’s staple grain.
Last May, authorities launched an investigation of rice mills in southern China after tests found almost half of the supplies sold in Guangzhou, a major city, were contaminated with cadmium.
In early 2013, the newspaper Nanfang Daily reported that tens of thousands of tons of cadmium-tainted rice had been sold to noodle makers in southern China since 2009.
It said government inspectors declared it fit only for production of non-food goods such as industrial alcohol but a trader sold most of the rice to food processors anyway.