What industrial chemicals are in China’s water, and how harmful are they?

Over the last three decades, China’s economic development has transformed the country, replacing fields and forests with thousands of factories. The factories severely pollute China’s precious water resources. The widespread dumping of toxic chemicals and industrial wastewater has poisoned rivers and groundwater – and the people who rely on them.

Industrial pollution might be suspected if a water source exhibits any of the following physical properties:

  • Strong chemical odours (often similar to phenolic disinfectant), like petrol, or sharp and acrid (irritate the back of the nose or throat);
  • Colours unexplained by iron or manganese tests;
  • Reports of bitter or metallic tastes not explained by iron or manganese tests;
  • Persistent foaming on the water surface;
  • A multicoloured, iridescent sheen on the water surface that does not break up when prodded with a stick;

Health Effects

Hazardous chemicals have a range of toxic effects to people and animals. Depending on the type of chemical they can cause numerous negative effects including:

  • Cancer,
  • Damage the nervous system,
  • Disrupt the reproductive system or alter the function of hormones

WHO – Chemical from industrial activities

Greenpeace – Hazardous chemicals

What’s in the Water


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