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The Sincerest Form of Flattery

July 8, 2013 – China is reaping what it has sown, and that means they must clean up a mess that has penetrated to the far corners of their fairly large country.  Farmers must now pollinate by hand in one region, because all the bees are dead.  Air quality ranges from poor to barely breathable in many Chinese cities.  Now, the government has announced a “work plan” for cleaning up the groundwater in the North China Plains region.

Is there a lesson for the United States in this sad state of affairs?  Many of the chemicals polluting the groundwater in this area are extremely persistent, remaining in the environment far longer than just the days and weeks immediately following their release.  Just as in the U.S., where suspicion runs high regarding the oh-so-secret chemical cocktail employed by frackers to release tight oil, suspicions must finally have boiled over in the North China Plains, because a massive government investigation of the groundwater was ordered in 2006.  The investigation concluded that the groundwater had been almost irreparably harmed.  After a year of planning, a course of action has been determined.

The plan includes dividing the North China Plains into 30 units, each ranked by the severity of its water quality problems.  Water pollution assessment will be ongoing between 2013 and 2020 in order to gauge the effectiveness of limiting agricultural runoff, controlling industrial and landfill pollution at the source, treating already polluted water, and continuing research into the best ways to clean chemically polluted water.  In addition, approval of new industrial facilities will require adherence to a much more rigorous standard, and industrial and agricultural wastes will be strictly regulated.

The Land Ministry has admitted that 41 percent of groundwater monitoring sites across the country reveal poor water quality.  Pollutants like iron, manganese, fluoride, nitrites, nitrates, ammonium, and heavy metals have all been found at higher levels than those deemed safe.  Excess fluoride has caused nearly 3 million cases of bone disease, in large part because of almost 150 fluoridated pesticide products.  Like us, the Chinese must learn that if a substance kills weeds and insects, it hurts us, too.  This year, summer agricultural runoff has caused the largest algal bloom ever observed in China.  It is now twice the size of the previous largest bloom.

So, China’s clean-up plans are being heralded as good news.  If only they hadn’t gotten themselves in so much trouble!  Using up resources and people as if neither mattered is indicative of huge problems, the same problems which are now rearing their ugly heads in the United States.  The less like China we become, the better off we will be.  That they even acknowledge the fact that they have problems is, in fact, a very big deal.  That’s the part we need to do better with, ourselves.  Wouldn’t Tea Party members die if they knew they played the role of the Chinese government here in the U.S.?

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