A July Greenpeace report shows that the toxic chemicals in Chinese water systems aren’t always the fault of Chinese officials and factory managers (who sometimes face death if convicted of negligence).
Instead, they are the result of Western firms working in China and, intentionally or inadvertently, driving production to such levels that local Chinese factory managers bend the rules to improve their production numbers.
Consider, for example, the Youngor textile factory near Shanghai, which has been charged by Greenpeace with dumping hormone-disrupting chemicals and other poisons into China’s riverine water system, namely the Yangtze and Pearl Rivers.
Youngor produces textiles largely for the West, and is associated with such multinationals as Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M, and LaCoste. These Western companies have, predictably, tried to exonerate themselves. For example, Adidas said that its only connection with Youngor was for the cutting and sewing of fabrics it supplied. Puma said its affiliation was limited to a non-polluting subsidiary of Younger. H&M said that its dealings revolved entirely around Ningbo Youngor Yingchen Uniform, a discrete and separate legal entity within the Younger International Garment City complex that had not contributed to the pollution of the Fenghua River.
Disingenuousness is typical of multinational conglomerates, so we were not surprised by the disclaimers. The other polluter accused in the Greenpeace report was Well Dyeing Factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province. Well is charged with putting heavy metals like chromium and copper into the water, along with various phenols, which are derivatives of coal tar and highly toxic.
According to Greenpeace, the Wells factory dumped its toxic overload at night, describing the practice as typical of Chinese factories which want to avoid governmental scrutiny. Greenpeace should have noted that some American and EU firms do the same whenever possible, and not necessarily under cover of darkness.
Textile companies aren’t, however, the only polluters. Take, for example, the Chinese oil spill in the Bohai Sea half the size of London that went unreported for a month. This 840-square-kilometer (about 30 square miles) oil slick, courtesy U.S. energy company ConocoPhillips in partnership with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, came from the Penglai Field southeast of Beijing in the South China Sea. The State Oceanic Administration has stated that it is the first leak of its kind in China, but skepticism reigns.
Or consider the levels of lead pollution, revealed by a Chinese government-sponsored test in July, which found 178 of Lingbao’s 431 children with astronomical levels of lead in their blood. Lingbao hosts one of China’s lead smelters.
And if that doesn’t worry you, consider giant multinational Apple, which in 2011 switched screen cleaners for one that (unknown to Apple perhaps) contained n-hexane, a potent nerve toxin.
One hundred thirty six workers were injured. Wintek, Apple’s “face” in the Shandong Province factory, has since encouraged those workers to resign and sign release of liability forms. Stay classy, Apple.
Finally, consider Tai Lake – whose excessive pollution helped launch the cleaner, greener China effort in 2007. The lake itself remains questionably cleaner.