Eighty percent of Chinese water is too toxic to drink (in part from our e-waste)

china water pollutionOver 80 percent of China’s wells is heavily polluted, according to new statistics reported by Chinese Media and the NY Times this week, raising new concerns about the world’s most populated country. However, most Chinese cities get their water from deep wells and reservoirs, which weren’t part of the study. Villages and small towns, which dot the countryside, use shallower wells and are the basis of the new report.

These shallow wells and rivers have become contaminated from industry and agriculture practices. And while the U.S. is benefiting from China’s lax pollution controls, the toxic byproducts from making iPhones, batteries for electric vehicles, and solar panels is creating an environmental nightmare. Polluted water is falling from China’s skies and infiltrating the watershed where many Chinese get their water.

Dabo Guan, a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain who has been studying water pollution and scarcity in China, said: “From my point of view, this shows how water is the biggest environmental issue in China.” She notes that while those who live in cities see air pollution every day, they don’t realize the water is just as polluted.

Some of the contaminants come from industries that are largely unregulated by the communist country. China is also one of the biggest suppliers of solar panels to the United States, which requires the use of heavy metals to make. Presidential candidate and Republican front-runner Donald Trump has even made it a campaign talking point, saying that by bringing jobs back from China, industrialized jobs would get the proper environmental oversight lacking in China.

As early as 2008, 60 minutes reported on the devastation e-waste, or electronic waste, is causing in China, from the toxic chemicals used to make each panel and the carcinogenic waste products being discarded into landfills, groundwater, and nearby streams and rivers. It also shows how lucrative the toxic e-waste has become for “junked computers, TVs, and other electronic products can be mined for valuable components, including gold.”

China has a robust black market for illegally imported e-waste. What started as discarded electronic junk in Denver, 60 minutes discovered that much of it ends up in toxic dumps in China, which leech into the ground from rainwater. And solar panels, which are made cheaply in China and being bought up by the U.S. in an effort to meet Obama’s climate goals, are polluting streams and watersheds.

One solar panel manufacturer was forced to close its doors after “four days of protests by angry residents who accused it of severely polluting a nearby river.” The factory belonged to Jinko Solar, a large company that was traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Local authorities ordered the factory to suspend production. And that’s just one solar panel maker. China’s environmental protection bureau found the plant was spewing it’s e-waste into a nearby river, causing a mass die-off of fish.

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