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Water Pollution Threatens Lives in Inner Mongolia's Tengger Desert

In the past few days, members of the Yellow River 10-Year Investigation [zh] team have begun reporting on the situation regarding water pollution in the Tengger Desert of Inner Mongolia. The team claim that black industrial water emitted by a coal chemical processing factory in the industrial district has been contaminating the desert's underground water, destroying the local herders' homeland and endangering the lives of those in the desert.

The Investigation is a non-profit research effort jointly launched in 2012 by Green Sina [zh] and Green Earth Volunteers. Recently, the team visited Tengger Desert and reported their trip in Chinese social media. A widely disseminated micro blog post [zh] written by Ai Ruogan, a famous podcaster and an investigation team member, on Sina Weibo from October 29, 2012, explains.

A photo collage of industrial water pollution at Tengger Desert. Uploaded by Ai Rougan.

A photo collage of industrial water pollution at Tengger Desert. Uploaded by Ai Rougan.

现在,我们正在内蒙古阿拉善左旗腾格里沙漠工业园区调查,亲见沙漠化工企业用大卡车向沙漠排放污水,形成许多污水湖,有些地方用排污管插入沙漠心脏直排。当地牧民饮用水井距工厂仅几百米,不远处仅剩一处湿地湖,不知百鸟能翔几天?已有牧民患上白血病

Now we are investigating at the industrial district of Tengger Desert at Alxa Zuoqi, Inner Monglia. I see with my own eyes the corporations in the industrial district transporting polluted water with trucks and dumping it in the desert. The water turns into small lakes. In some areas, they use pipes and pump the polluted water down to the heart of the desert. The herders' wells are just a few hundred meters away from the factories. Also, there is a natural lake for wild birds to take rest nearby. I wonder if these birds can survive for long… some herdsmen are already suffering from leukemia

Song Fuli, another team member, provided photo evidence [zh], showing how corporations are using pipes to pump water into the desert:

排污管道直接暗渡陈仓伸到沙漠,污水渗到沙里,神不知鬼不觉,服了,有才的企业,有才的政府!记住,这里是内蒙古阿拉善左旗腾格里工业园区,最近的牧民居住点不到两公里。

The pipe secretly channels the polluted water into the desert. What a genius corporation, what a genius government! Remember this is the industrial district of Alxa Zuoqi, Inner Monglia. The herders are settling just two miles away from here.

Photo showing how industrial waste water is being pumped out into the desert. Photo taken by Song Fuli.

Photo showing how industrial waste water is being pumped out into the desert. Photo taken by Song Fuli.

Wang Yongchen, the coordinator of Green Earth and also a member of the investigation team, recounted what she saw at Sina Weibo [zh]:

腾格里沙龙里倒化工废水的池了。我们每一个人捂着鼻子和嘴还呛得晕。当地牧民说要是夏天呛得眼镜也睁不开。为了现代化就这样毁牧民的家,毁金色的沙漠吗?

@Wang: This is the water treatment pool where the factories from the Tengger Industrial area store their polluted water. The smell is so bad that we felt dizzy even we covered our mouths and noses. Local herders said in the summer, they could not even open their eyes when they were near the pool. The destruction of herders homeland and golden desert, is that the price we have to pay for modernization?

The well is just a mile away from the water treatment pool. Photo by Wang Yongchen.

The well is just a mile away from the water treatment pool. Photo by Wang Yongchen.

离往沙漠里倒化工污水只有一公里多一点的沙漠里就是牧民们的饮用水井,水深不到2米。我们问这水还能喝吗?他们说不喝这水上哪喝水去?这是牧民的家。

@Wang: The well that supplies drinking water to the herders is just a little more than a mile away from the water treatment pool. The water level is just two meters deep. We asked whether the water is safe to drink. They said they can't find water elsewhere. This is their home.

腾格里沙漠除了有人住还有大天鹅、麻鸭、骆驼,现在化工厂来了黑水倒在了沙漠里,落日中鸟们飞来飞去找着他们过夜的家。

@Wang: Tengger Desert is also home to swans, wild ducks, camels. Now that the chemical factories are dumping black water in the desert, where can the birds settle after sunset?

现在一车的人头疼、嗓子疼、胸疼.本想打了一瓶水带回北京化验,但实在是无法带着继续走了。周围喘气的生命怎么活的,不能想象。

@Wang: Now all of us in the car are suffering from headaches, soar throats and chest pains. We were intending to get a water sample to the laboratory in Beijing, but got so sick. I wonder how life can survive here. I can't imagine.

这么污染的企业占牧民的草场,只给每人2万块,和一点草场补偿就给人打发走了。我们采访的农民说这是一个镇书记就决定的事,会这样吗?明天我们会继续调查。 不知是不懂沙漠也有生态圈这回事呢,还是根本觉得无所谓

@Wang: As compensation for the herders’ loss, the corporates gave each of them RMB 20,000 (equivalent to USD 3,300) as compensation. The herders said the settlement was decided by a party secretary of the town. We will carry on our investigation tomorrow. I wonder if the authorities are ignorant of the ecology in the desert or they just simply don't care.

According to a local report [zh], the water emitted from the industrial district is from a coal chemical processing factory. Even though there is a water treatment facility in the district, it hasn't yet gone operational in order to save on costs. The result is that toxic water is being stored at the water treatment pool to await vaporization or, in some cases, being secretly dumped in the desert.

On the next day, October 30, the investigation team traveled further upstream, Ai Ruogan continued his report [zh]:

上午,我们又到腾格里沙漠深处调查,在昨天化工污染排放池上游,看到了目前仍清澈见底的鸣泉、涝坝,不知还能清流多久?牧民呼布岱手捧沙枣发问:为什么有人花钱保护自然,为什么有人为挣钱来破坏草原?我就不爱钱,我就爱家乡的草原。为留出化工企业发展空间,却要我们搬迁

In the morning, we continued investigating in the desert. Upstream of the water treatment pool, we could still see very clear stream flowing. We just don't know how long the the clean water will flow for. A old man, Hubudai, asked, “how come some people would spend money to preserve the environment, while some would destroy the grassland to make money? I don't like money, I love my homeland and grassland. The development of chemical industry has forced us out of our homeland.”

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