Polluted groundwater was a hot topic of discussion on China's social media during the Spring Festival holiday after Web users reported they had discovered factories were getting rid of dangerous waste by letting it seep into aquifers, seriously threatening the drinking water of local residents.
A Weibo user named Jinrong Bagua'nan set off the discussion on February 11, when he reported hearing during a business trip to Shandong Province that many chemical, alcohol and paper manufacturing factories in Weifang, Shandong, were discharging their chemical waste more than 1,000 meters underground.
The Weibo post quickly drew responses from more than 20 Web users from other provinces including Henan, Hebei and Yunnan, after the original post was forwarded by Deng Fei, a reporter from the Phoenix Weekly who rose to fame when he launched the Free Lunch Project for poor countryside children.
The posts from different locales claimed the practice of discharging waste underground is widespread and is suspected of causing a rise in the incidence of breast, lung and kidney cancers.
A 40-year-old man surnamed Su, from Guangrao county in Shandong, told the Global Times Saturday that his family has not used water from wells for five years after learning that a local chemical and paper manufacturing company, Huatai Group, gets rid of its chemical waste by discharging it into the local aquifer, which is the source of much of the county's drinking water.
"My family dares not drink well water because we're concerned about its safety," he said.
Calls to Huatai went unanswered Saturday and the local environmental protection bureau in Dongying was unavailable for comment.
The Beijing News published an editorial Thursday, stressing the urgent need to curb groundwater pollution. The issue is not a new one and was reported in 2010 in Banyuetan, a magazine published by the Xinhua News Agency.
Deng said he has helped organize an independent investigation nationwide of water pollution and has recruited 50 volunteers from NGOs, journalists and lawyers. "The goal of the program is to push the government into publicly releasing information about sewage discharge and strengthening the punishment of enterprises that illegally get rid of their pollution," he said.
Ma Jun, director of the NGO Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the Global Times that groundwater is the main source of drinking water in many areas and polluting it will no doubt result in big troubles.
"Factories usually discharge highly toxic waste underground because otherwise it's costly to deal with," said Ma.
He agreed that punishment of illegal discharge of factory waste should be strengthened.
"Few people involved in water pollution scandals were sent to prison since governments attached more importance to local economic development than environmental protection," he said. "It's time to switch that concept around."