China is surveying soil nationwide to ascertain levels of heavy metals pollution after the discovery of rice tainted with cadmium spurred concern that crops may be unsafe, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The project will compare samples collected from topsoil and deeper layers to determine heavy-metal pollution caused by human activities, Xinhua reported, citing the Ministry of Land Resources and China Geological Survey. The survey will test for 78 elements in soil, according to the report that was posted to the central government’s website yesterday.
Authorities have pledged to reduce pollution and ensure food safety as they seek to assuage public anger sparked by incidents including chemical spills into supplies of drinking water and the sale of tainted baby formula. Pollution has surpassed land disputes as the main cause of social unrest in China, Chen Jiping, a former member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, said in March.
The discovery of cadmium-tainted rice at eateries in southern China’s Guangdong province this year has led to public calls for the release of information on soil pollution, Xinhua reported, without saying if the results of the latest survey would be made public.
In January, a lawyer in Beijing named Dong Zhengwei asked the environment ministry to release information on soil pollution, Xinhua reported earlier on May 9. The ministry responded in February by refusing to provide the information because it is a state secret, according to the report. Dong then asked that that decision be reviewed, to which the ministry responded by saying the data would be released following additional evaluations, according to Xinhua.
The land ministry has previously said tests found severe pollution in several regions, including abnormally high levels of cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic in parts of the mid-and lower-tributaries of the Yangtze River, according to the Xinhua report from yesterday.
A survey of Guangdong found 40 percent of its soil was polluted by heavy metals and that the situation had “severely worsened” since 2008, the China Daily newspaper reported in July 2010, citing Wang Hongfu, a researcher with the Guangdong Institute of Eco-environment and Soil Sciences.
Shortages of land and water have limited the growth of Chinese grain production, which has trailed the pace at which the nation’s consumption has increased, Chen Xiwen, deputy head of the Communist Party’s Central Rural Work Leading Group, said in January. Grain imports last year reached a record 72.33 million tons, Chen said.
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