Nearly 500 acres of wheat crop in three neighbouring villages in central China’s Henan Province withered and died last month. And locals believe a nearby chemical plant to be the culprit, a Chinese media outlet reported.
The wheat seedlings in three villages in Xuchang City’s Jian’an District turned greyish brown and died over the months of February and March, according to a March report by China Business Herald.
Locals told the outlet that a chemical plant located less than half a mile away from the villages had a chemical leak in late January. They believe that this caused their crops to die.
The factory is run by Henan HDF Chemical Company. According to its website, the company was founded in 2003 and its main products include pesticides, herbicides, and organic reagents.
Wheat fields within around a half mile radius of the chemical plant died, the outlet reported, while beyond this radius, wheat seedlings have started to brown. In total, just under 500 acres of wheat fields were destroyed.
The China Business Herald reporter noted a pungent smell in the air in the village, which became stronger as he approached the chemical factory. He said it made him making him feel dizzy and nauseous. The villagers told the outlet that the air in the area smelled like this every day, and they had already become accustomed to it.
According to the outlet, an increasing number of locals in the three villages have contracted cancer in recent years. In the village closest to the plant, which has a population of about 2,000, five locals died within a week, three of them from lung cancer. While nine villagers are currently critically-ill in hospital.
In another nearby village, about 20 people died from lung or liver cancer in the past four years, the paper reported. The youngest person to pass away was in his thirties.
Chinese media have reported a number of similar cases of industrial contamination in the past.
Last march, state-run television China Central Television (CCTV) reported that a fabric dye factory in Xingtai city in northern China’s Hebei Province polluted a local agricultural water supply, turning it a brownish-red color.
Local farmers told the outlet that the polluted water was used to irrigate around 10 acres of wheat crop. The crop from those fields produced an estimated 50,000 pounds of wheat. Locals, however, did not dare to consume the tainted wheat, so it was sold to a flour factory.
In July 2013, rice grown in Mianzhu County in southwest China’s Sichuan Province was found to have metal contamination, CCTV reported. Around 86 percent of the crop contained levels of cadmium far exceeding safe amounts.
The report said the suspected source of the contamination was a phosphate rock quarry, which was located alongside a river and operated by chemical company, Sichuan Daying Yingfeng Chemical Co. Ltd.
Phosphate rocks naturally contain trace amounts of arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. According to the report, the river was carrying away large amounts of the phosphate rock during times of high water levels. The river water then ended up being used for irrigation in the rice farms.
In 2003, Guangzhou media outlet Ocean Net reported that after a chemical plant opened in Lechang county in 2002, all of the fish raised in the local fish farms died, while more than 80 acres of rice field did not yield any harvest that year.
A 2005 investigation by local authorities into the factory, named Silver Star Chemical Plant, revealed that the water discharged from the plant was highly acidic, with a pH level of 1.51. The effluent was also contaminated with a range of trace metals at levels exceeding industry standards. Some heavy metals exceeded safety standards by ten times.