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Environment

Pollution in China

January 2, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 1

The article by Jean-Fran??ois Tremblay regarding pollution in China (C&EN, Sept. 26, 2005, page 21) was excellent and captures the essence of the issues facing that rapidly industrializing nation. It brought back many unpleasant memories of a commercial bicycle trip that I took in China some 10 years ago over the Christmas holiday, from Hong Kong to the Guilin area. The one word that would succinctly describe my experience would be "dirty."

The air was constantly dirty, gray, and acrid. There was open burning of plastic-coated wire to recover the copper. Most of the villages had small kilns for making coke from coal or charcoal from wood, with all of the emissions just vented to the atmosphere. There were cement plants spewing voluminous amounts of brown smoke into the air. In one case, an apartment complex sat just under the discharge; this certainly would not be beneficial to the health of the residents. Open burning also contributed large amounts of air pollution. The vistas promised in the trip brochure turned out to be only murky outlines of distant mountains.

There was graphic evidence of water pollution all along our route. In one case, I saw raw sewage in a village that went out into the fields (recycling) and then into surface waters. The rivers and streams served as dumping grounds for both domestic and industrial wastes. One could not drink the local water anywhere on our trip, including Hong Kong, where we were brought boiled water for drinking at our hotel.

The land was also used as a dumping ground everywhere, with waste plastic and debris scattered all over the landscape. There was no sense of any environmental ethic anywhere we went.

China has to do a better job of taking care of its environment and the health of its citizens if it wants to survive. Currently, government policy is aimed at continued economic growth at any cost—9% per year for the past two decades. It is sacrificing its people to become a major player in the global economy.

When I visited China, I was struck by the large number of people riding bicycles and using them as beasts of burden. The traffic then was pretty grim. I can't imagine what will happen when people start trading in their bikes for cars-without pollution controls-which is now a growing trend. This will only lead to more environmental and health problems. China wants to be like the U.S., but there are simply not enough natural resources on the planet for this to occur, unless the U.S. is willing to lower its standard of living.

Private industry and the various governments will have to become more involved in environmental issues and pollution control in the future to ensure a viable national economy without sacrificing the health of China's people.

Ron Guidotti
Minden, Nev.

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Information from the American Chemical Society's 2004 Form 990 is now available to ACS members on chemistry.org. To access the information, please have your ACS membership number handy and follow these instructions: Log on to chemistry.org (you must be registered, a process that takes about a minute), click on the tab "ACS Members" at the top of the page, click on the item under "Member Information and Benefits" that reads "Compensation of ACS Officers and Key Employees," scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on "Request 2004 Compensation Schedules." Fill out your e-mail information, and, within a minute, you will receive an e-mail with an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

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