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THE “cadmium rice” scandal has raised awareness of the extent of heavy
metal pollution in China, but the situation in Shanghai is considerably
better. Zhang Qian talks to researchers mapping city pollution.

How do Humans Affect the Environment

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A study published Tuesday (Oct. 16) in the journal?Environmental
Science and Technology
?found microplastics in more than 90% of the
packaged food-grade salt—also known as table salt—for sale in stores.

Cadmium discovered in rice from Hunan Province astonished Chinese
residents once again, indicating a more pervasive food safety problem
and focusing attention on the dangerous levels of heavy metal soil

Climate change, extinction of species, and pollution of life-supporting
air and water has become a growing concern for nations all over the
world. Knowing about the various ways in which humans have affected the
environment will help us understand and address the problems better.

Salt consumption exceeds national and World Health Organization
guidelines in most countries, but only the highest-sodium diets, such as
in China, are linked to clear health risks, researchers said.


The discovery of the toxic, cancer-causing heavy metal in Hunan rice
came to light in February in Guangzhou Province. News reports said
contaminated batches had been discovered over the years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988
to study the risk of climate change due to human activity. In the Kyoto
Protocol of 1997, industrialized nations agreed to cut down their
emissions of greenhouse gases considerably by 2012. Even the G8
committee that began as a response to the 1937 oil crisis and was
primarily concerned with the economic issues of the member nations, now
unfailingly has something related to the environment in their summits.


The team, from South Korea’s Incheon National University and Greenpeace
East Asia, sampled 39 brands of salt harvested in 21 countries and
regions. Only three of the samples had no detectable microplastics.

Scientists found that no cadmium was part of any chemical additives used
after the rice was harvested, thus, leaving heavy metal soil pollution
as the likely cause.

Years of thoughtless exploitation of nature by man has resulted in the
effects staring right in our face now. The truth, that in the bid to
improve our lives, we have put our own survival to stake, has finally
hit us hard. Now as more and more studies and research are being carried
out to understand the various effects that humans have had on the
environment, an increasing number of people are awakening to the fact
that the well-being of the environment and survival are intricately
woven into each other.

Only individuals with a daily salt intake of at least 12.5 grams —
about two-and-a-half teaspoons — were associated with increased blood
pressure and a greater risk of stroke, they reported in?The Lancet, a
medical journal.


Cadmium, a known carcinogen, builds up in the body and damages the
kidneys, lungs and bones, causing brittle bones and pain.

Effects of Human Activities on Environment


Microplastics are virtually everywhere. Sea salt and lake salt are made
by evaporating water and harvesting the salt that remains. Plastic waste
flows from rivers into those bodies of water, so it’s no surprise that
the salt contains traces of it too. Scientists have been finding
microplastics in salt for years, including in salt from countries and
regions in Asia, Europe, and Africa.

It is one of several toxic heavy metals that have leached from Hunan
mines, mine tailings and chemical factories into waterways, mainly the
Xiangjiang River and tributaries. Water from contaminated rivers, lakes
and streams is typically diverted in rice paddies where metals settle
into the soil and taint the crops.

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WHO recommends capping salt consumption at five grams per day, but this
target is not known to have been achieved at a national level anywhere
in the world, the survey of more than 90,000 people spread across 300
distinct communities in 18 countries found.


Though less obvious than air and water pollution, soil pollution is now
getting unprecedented public and official attention, with the revelation
of “cadmium rice.”

Just about a year back, I came across an article in which
environmentalists expressed their concerns that if the Gangotri glacier
(that feeds river Ganges) kept melting at its current rate, the river
Ganges would soon dry up. River Ganges is the holy river of India, which
has served as a lifeline for centuries for millions of people on its
banks. Rivers have played an important role in the survival of mankind,
and many of them are fed by glaciers. Global warming refers to the
increase in the temperatures of the earth due to release of greenhouse
gases like carbon dioxide and methane from industries and vehicles. This
phenomenon is causing the glaciers to melt at an alarming rate. Not just
the Gangotri, but even the polar ice caps are melting at a faster rate
than they can form. The result is increase in the sea level, and it
poses a danger of drowning the low-lying areas. Some of the areas that
may go under the sea if the sea levels kept increasing include
Bangladesh, parts of Africa and even major cities like London and New


But the latest study goes a step further, finding that looking at where
the salt was produced is a good indicator of how much plastic pollution
is coming from that particular region.

Pollution maps

Depletion of Ozone Layer

“We should be far more concerned about targeting communities and
countries with high average sodium intake — above five grams
(equivalent to 12.5 grams of salt), such as China — and bringing them
down to the moderate range” of 7.5 to 12.5 grams of salt, said lead
author Andre Mente, a professor in the Population Health Research
Institute at McMaster University in Canada.


China’s Ministry of Land and Resources is said to be working on a
nationwide soil pollution map, with checks on 81 chemical indexes
(including 78 chemical elements) in the topsoil and deep soil all over
the country.

The stratosphere has a layer of ozone that protects us from the harmful
ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Exposure to these rays cause skin
cancer and cataracts. However, the ozone layer filters out the dangerous
UV rays from sunlight as it enters the earth’s atmosphere. The
cholofluorocarbons (CFCs) that are man-made chemicals are released in
the atmosphere through CFC containing aerosols, refrigeration equipment,
foam and as by products of certain industrial processes. As these
chemicals are released, they rise into the atmosphere and break down the
ozone molecules that form the ozone layer. There is an ozone hole in the
Antarctic stratosphere that is causing great concern to
environmentalists all over the world. Because of the ozone holes in the
upper atmosphere, the Earth receives excessive ultraviolet radiation
from the sun. This is harmful for trees and plants (and for animals and
human beings who depend on plants). The UV rays can destroy a certain
type of bacteria known as Cyanobacteria that are important for a number
of economically important crops. Researchers are even predicting that
excess level of UV rays could lead to the death of the phytoplanktons,
that are an important component of the food web of the oceans.


The 39 samples came from Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chinese
mainland and Taiwan, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, India,
Indonesia, Italy, Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, the
UK, the US, and Vietnam.

The Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau is also launching a soil
pollution investigation of key industrial areas in the city.


One gram of sodium equals 2.5 grams of salt.


Lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and chromium are the top five heavy
metals frequently discovered in polluted soil near industrial areas.
Antimony and selenium are also found in some regions. Heavy metals are
essential in electronic gadgets and their batteries.

Industrialization has been the hallmark of human progress. However, with
industries have come a host of toxic gases that are being released into
the atmosphere even as I write this article and you read it. Industries
release gallons of liquid waste into the seas and rivers. Some of the
effluents percolate down and reach the ground water and pollute it to
the extent that it can’t be used by human beings for drinking or
cooking. Intensive agriculture and excessive use of fertilizers and
pesticides are destroying the natural land and driving animals away.
Besides adding to air pollution, the innumerable vehicles running on the
roads add to noise pollution that has led to an increase in stress,
anxiety and problems related to hearing. Water pollution has led to a
decrease in the number of various aquatic animals. Several aquatic life
forms are on the verge of extinction. Migratory birds are known to
change their course due to pollution or change in weather. Respiratory
diseases in human beings is another price that we are paying for
polluting the environment. Acid rains can kill trees, destroy crops and
fish life in lakes and streams. Ingestion or inhalation of toxic
substances increases the chances of having life-threatening diseases
like cancer.


Of these, 28 were sea salts, nine were rock salts, and two were lake

“Soil pollution is not a new issue, the problem has existed for more
than a decade. But the polluted regions are expanding at an enormous
speed in recent years,” says Professor Chen Zhenlou of Resource and
Environmental Science School of East China Normal University.


Four-fifths of the groups examined in China had average daily salt
intake of 12.5 grams, whereas in other countries 84 percent ingested
between 7.5 and 12.5 grams.


“Generally speaking, heavy metal soil pollution in Shanghai is not as
serious as that in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, and there is no need to
worry about ‘cadmium rice’ with the relatively low content of cadmium in
local soil,” says Professor Chen. However, there are polluted areas and
sources of pollution date back to the days before toxic discharges were

Increasing population, industrialization and need of land for
development of expanding cities has led man to cut down forests
selfishly. Not only are the forests home to a large number of animals,
trees are also an important component of the water cycle. The roots of
plants hold the soil together and prevent soil erosion. The global
forest cover has shrunk to half its area in the last 11,000 years.
During the period between 1990 and 2000 itself, the yearly loss of
natural forests was 16 million hectares. Deforestation at such alarming
rate has been a cause of constant worry for environmentalists the world
over. ‘Biodiversity’ plays an extremely important role when it comes to
maintaining the life on Earth.


Only three of the samples were microplastics-free: a refined sea salt
from Taiwan, a refined rock salt from Chinese mainland, and an unrefined
sea salt in France.

Rice quality report

Extinction of Species

“Our study adds to growing evidence that, at moderate intake, sodium may
have a beneficial role in cardiovascular heath, but a potentially more
harmful role when intake is very high or very low,” he said in a


About one-fifth of China’s farmland, more than 20 million hectares, is
polluted by heavy metal and farmland polluted by cadmium is found in
around 25 regions in 11 provinces, according to a report issued in 2010
by institutes including the Agriculture Ministry’s rice quality test

The variety and interdependence of all living things has led to the
evolution of world. Man has been killing animals right since the time he
acquired the skill of hunting. Although in those times, hunting was the
means for survival, human beings continued to kill animals even after
they had learned to cultivate crops. The relentless hunting by human
beings, sometimes for the hide of a cheetah or the tusks of the
elephants, or simply to cook the tasty shark fin soup, has wiped out the
existence of a large number of animals in just a century. Besides
hunting, human activities like environmental pollution and deforestation
has led to the extinction of a large number of animals and plants due to
loss of habitat. Recent studies have shown that in North America, 37
animal species have become extinct in the last 50 years due to human
activities. Loss of habitat led to the extinction of the Bali subspecies
of tiger in 1937. According to the 2008 annual IUCN (International Union
for Conservation of Nature) report, there were 16,928 animal and plant
species that are threatened of extinction and the list keeps increasing
every year.


Salt made in Asia had by far the most microplastics of all the samples,
which correlates with where plastic most often enters the ocean. Nine of
the top 10 sea salts sampled with the highest amount of microplastics
came from Asia.

The report, titled “Research on China’s Rice Quality, the Safety
Situation and Development of Countermeasures,” indicates that the
problem is most serious in regions south of the Yangtze River, including
Hunan and Jiangxi provinces.

Despite the indiscriminate exploitation of nature by some people, there
are a handful of those that are relentlessly working to reverse the
detrimental effects of human activities on the environment. The World
Wildlife Fund, European Environment Agency and the National Geographic
are some organizations that run programs for the preservation of nature
and educate and inspire people to conserve all life forms be it flora or
fauna. Here is a small list of activities that can help reestablish the

The human body needs essential nutrients such as sodium and many
vitamins, but the ideal amount remains subject to debate.


“The problem is that the soil cannot self-purify itself from heavy
metals,” says Professor Chen, “Once the heavy metal pollution happens,
it stays. Even pesticides degrade in 20-30 years, but heavy metals can
never degrade the natural way.”

How can Humans Improve Damaged Ecosystems


“The results indicate that not only is Asia a hot spot of global plastic
pollution, as previous studies have suggested, but also that sea salt
can be a good indicator of the magnitude of [microplastics] pollution
in the surrounding marine environment,” the researchers write.

Using irrigation water polluted by domestic sewage and industrial waste
was common in the 1970s and 80s.

• Passing and implementing strict laws for industries and colonies.
Those who are responsible for polluting air and water should be severely

The study examined urine and blood samples, along with health records,
for 95,767 women and men monitored over an eight-year period.


Irrigating with such polluted water has been banned since the 1990s, but
the heavy metals discharged before that period have persisted.

• Creating protected wildlife reserves. Certain species that are on the
verge of extinction should be declared as ‘protected species’ by
respective governments.


Based on their results, the researchers estimate that the average adult
ingests about 2,000 pieces of microplastic in salt per year. But, they
write, that still only represents a fraction of the microplastics a
person is likely to consume.

It’s also possible that unscrupulous enterprises have continued to
discharge toxins that pollute water and soil. The metal mining
industrial chains must take responsibility for the serious soil
pollution in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, according to Chen. Their
industrial discharge enters farmland, surface water and underground
water, eventually leading to heavy metal pollution when elements settle.

• Breeding certain species, and releasing them afterwards so that they
can live in their own habitat. Preserving and creating proper habitats.

Nearly 3,700 of the participants died during that time and 3,543 had
“major cardiovascular events”.


The relatively high heavy metal content in Shanghai farmland in Pudong
New Area and Songjiang District are typical results of historic
wrongdoing, says Chen. He declined to disclose details.

• Planting as many trees as possible. Reforestation or re-greening the
damaged areas can help avoid desertification of land.


Previous research revealed that microplastics have also been found in
tap water, mollusks, and both indoor and outdoor air. All together,
those four pathways add up to an average 32,000 pieces of microplastic
ingested per year per person. Inhaling microplastics in the air is by
far the largest contributor—people ingest roughly 80% of the
microplastics that enters their bodies through this route.

Regardless of the official ban on using industrial polluted water,
uninformed farmers may be perpetuating the damage, he says.

• Creating awareness by celebrating ‘Earth Day’, ‘Green Day’, ‘Tree
Day’, etc.

Experts not involved in the study were sharply critical of its
methodology. The technique for collecting urine samples is notoriously
unreliable, they noted. And the fact that it was an observational study
— as opposed to clinical trials — means that no firm conclusions can
be drawn as to cause-and-effect.


“We still need to be alert since lead and mercury content is relatively
high in some areas of the city.”

• Eliminating foreign species can help native species of plants to grow.


Given those other sources of exposure, microplastics in table salt
amounts to about 6% of a person’s total microplastics ingestion, the
researchers write.

Heavy metal soil pollution is also caused by other industries, including
power generation, steel and petrochemical manufacturing where heavy
metals are often used as catalysts.

• Cleaning the rivers, ponds and lakes.

Most controversial was the suggestion that low sodium intake may, in
fact, provoke heart disease.


Baoshan District is famous for its steel industry and lead pollution is
a problem. Jinshan is known for petrochemicals, which use mercury.

• Avoiding use of plastic bags.


Microplastics have also been found in beer and fish.

Polluting factories have been closed and relocated, though soil
pollution persists. Suzhou Creek has been dredged, removing some of the

• Separating dry and wet garbage, composting, using wet garbage as

“There are no known mechanisms that could explain this observation,”
commented Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at
King’s College London.


Industrial discharge pollution, so called “point-source” pollution, can
be controlled with strict regulations.

• Avoiding use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.


Non-point-source pollution of heavy metals is related to use of chemical
fertilizers containing some heavy metals and the power-generation system
that relies on burning coal. This is not as severe as direct industrial

• Using innovative and different energy forms like solar energy, wind
energy, etc.

“Sodium is an essential nutrient but the requirement is very low at
about 0.5 grams (1.25 grams of salt) per day.”

In addition to Pudong New Area, Jinshan, Baoshan and Songjiang
districts, heavy metal pollution is also found in some regions in
Chongming County, such as Dongtan wetlands, a surprising result of the
investigation, says Chen.

• Limiting the use of vehicles by following the rule of carpool, taking
stairs, walking or taking a bike ride whenever possible.


Chongming Island is widely regarded and promoted as a “pure land” and
ecological island.

• Eating local products can help avoid wastage of gas and air pollution;
as food products are transported by trucks, trains, ships or airplanes.
They are processed with machines which require electricity to run.

Ageing populations, he added, should still be advised to restrict the
addition of salt to food.

“We believe polluted silt and sand brought downstream by the Yangtze
River from the upper reaches is the major cause of the situation,” says
Chen. “Since it is an estuary alluvial island of the Yangtze River, it
isn’t surprising that polluted soil from the upper reaches piled up

We have overworked the planet. Still, we can stop environmental
degradation by following certain rules. Creating awareness about the
duties and responsibilities of the citizens of EARTH is equally
important. Now that we know how humans affect the environment, let us
not sit back leaving all the responsibility of conserving our planet on
a handful of people. Each one of us can make a valuable contribution
towards preserving our environment. Let us do our own bit, for, in the
well-being of the environment lies the key to our survival.


Health is seriously threatened by heavy metal pollution of crops, water
and aquatic products. Since humans are at the top of food chain, high
levels of heavy metals can accumulate in the body.

Interesting Facts About the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

In the earth, heavy metals are stable, but when they are mined and
processed, they become metallic particles in the air and settle on the
soil and on water sources. Air pollution can turn into acid rain.

Isn’t it an irony that the world’s biggest garbage dump is located in
the world’s biggest ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the
Pacific Trash Vortex, is an endless stream of garbage debris that can be
found between the states of Hawaii and California, and from Eastern
Japan to West Hawaii. So who founded this dump? And who is to blame for
putting such an insane amount of garbage in the ocean? Buzzle answers
all the questions below.

Health threat


Heavy-metal polluted crops in China may total 1.2 million tons a year,
according to Professor Huang Qiaoyun of the Central China Agricultural
University in Wuhan.

Did You Know?

“Heavy metal is damaging to humans and children are more vulnerable,”
says Dr Yan Chonghuai, director of the Environmental Medicine Laboratory
at the Shanghai Institute for Pediatric Research.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains almost 3.5 million tons of
trash in the form of light bulbs, bottle caps, Popsicle sticks, bottles,
cans, fishing gear, polystyrene cups, shoes, toys, and even
toothbrushes. Plastic constitutes around 85% of the garbage floating in
this great garbage patch.

Cadmium pollution common in metallurgy, plastics and electronics
industries damages the kidneys and bones, where it replaces calcium and
results in painful, brittle bones.

Despite being discovered in 1997, the great Pacific garbage patch has
been notoriously under-reported by the media. Much of the younger
generation isn’t even aware that the Pacific ocean has been carrying the
world’s biggest landfill for years.

In the 1970s hundreds of Japanese villagers were poisoned by rice from
cadmium-polluted paddies. They suffered softened skeletons, kidney
failure and needle-like pain in the bones. The condition was called
“itai, itai,” which is Japanese for “It hurts, it hurts.”

Marine and environmental experts suggest that the formation of this dump
began during World War II, when people began manufacturing, using, and
throwing out plastics on a large scale. The United States has been a
major contributor to this waste, but the garbage in this patch is
accumulated from various parts of the world. So all those using water as
a way of garbage disposal are as guilty as the Americans.

The condition has not been found in China.

Who Discovered It?

Even if cadmium is no longer ingested, the process of renal failure will
continue in severe cases.

The existence of this garbage patch was predicted by many oceanographers
and climatologists. However, it was actually discovered by Captain
Charles J. Moore in 1997, when he and his crew were returning to
Southern California after completing a Transpac sailing race. They saw
an endless soup of garbage floating in the North Pacific Gyre. Here is
what the captain had to say:

According to the World Health Organization, the safe standard of cadmium
intake is no more than 7 micrograms per week for each kilogram of body
weight. That means no more than 60 micrograms a week for a person
weighing 60 kilograms.

So on the way back to our home port in Long Beach, California, we
decided to take a shortcut through the gyre, which few seafarers ever
cross. Fishermen shun it because its waters lack the nutrients to
support an abundant catch. Sailors dodge it because it lacks the wind to
propel their sailboats.

Mercury pollution is often related with metallurgy, coal-burning and
energy-generation industries that release methyl mercury, damaging brain
and kidneys.

Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a
pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the
sight of plastic.

Lead, which tends to remain in the blood, poses serious danger to the
nervous system, especially for children. Loss of concentration is an
early sign; lead also damages the digestive system and the endocrine
system. Lead is used in metallurgy, machine building, electroplating,
battery production and coal burning.

It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it
took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked,
plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers,
fragments. Months later, after I discussed what I had seen with the
oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, perhaps the world’s leading expert on
flotsam, he began referring to the area as the Eastern Garbage Patch.

Positive move

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Facts

Developing a nation-wide map of soil pollution is a positive move, says
Professor Chen, but solving the pollution problem is difficult since the
metals don’t degrade, and chemical and physical soil remediation is at a
research phase.

► Termed as one of the biggest environmental disasters, the size of the
great Pacific garbage patch is so huge that the state of Texas can fit
in it twice.

Remediation by hyper-accumulator plants is the mostly widely used
method, though it’s not widespread and it takes a long time to be
effective. Soil removal and replacement is applied in seriously polluted
regions, but this too is limited in scope and is very costly.

► This great patch sits on the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre – a gyre
is a slow moving circular ocean current formed by the earth’s rotation
and its wind patterns. The central area of the gyre is extremely calm
and stable, and its circular motion brings the garbage in the center
where it is trapped and gradually building up. This gyre has given birth
to two humongous garbage masses known as the Western and the Eastern
Pacific garbage patches, collectively known as the great Pacific garbage

A new relatively low-cost soil remediation by using biocharcoal was
recently reported to be effective by a team of scientists headed by
Professor Cao Xinde of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The biochar is
made from straw, blue-green algae, sawdust and rice husks and put into
the soil to absorb heavy metals. It can be used in combination with
bioaccumulator plants. It has not been used on a large scale.

► A 6,000 mile-long current, called the Subtropical Convergence Zone,
connects these two patches, and research has shown that large amounts of
trash can also be found in this zone.

“Considering all the difficulties in remediation for heavy metal soil
pollution, it is important that we stop further pollution while trying
our best to find better solutions,” says Professor Chen.

► According to research conducted by the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, the volume of
the plastic debris in this patch has increased by 100 times over the
last 40 years.

《Shanghai Daily》 日期:2013年7月1日 版次:B1-B2

► Other research, also by the Scripps Institute, found almost 9% of fish
with plastic waste in their stomachs. Further surveys determined that
fish found at intermediate depths in regions affected by the great
Pacific garbage patch consume almost 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic
every year.


► The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre isn’t the only gyre that contains a
large concentration of plastic garbage. Huge masses of garbage have also
accumulated in the Northern Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

► In 2006, the United Nations Environment Program estimated that every
square mile of the affected area contains almost 46,000 floating plastic

► Plastics can be extremely harmful for marine life in the gyre. This
huge mass of plastic and trash floats on the ocean’s surface, and blocks
the sunlight beneficial for the survival of algae and plankton situated
below. Algae and plankton are considered autotrophs, and sunlight helps
them produce their own nutrients. If their survival is threatened then
this can upset the entire marine food chain.

► It is estimated that humans produce close to 300 billion pieces of
plastic items annually, and about 10% of it is dumped in the ocean, out
of which 70% ultimately sinks. It hits the ocean floor and affects
marine life, and is ingested by various types of fish and other
creatures. The plastic works its way through the food chain, and
eventually ends up in humans who enjoying eating sea-food.

► Despite its enormous size, the great Pacific garbage patch isn’t
visible by satellite as much of the trash has been broken into extremely
tiny particles.

► It is estimated that thousands of sea-birds and marine animals are
killed every year by consuming the plastic or by entanglement in the
debris. However, the Water Strider, a marine insect is actually thriving
in this ever-growing plastic waste.

► Researchers from the Algalita Marine Research Institute say that waste
from the land, and not sea, contributes to almost 80% of the marine
debris, and around 65% of it is consumer-used plastics that haven’t been

Are We Doing Anything About It?

As this great garbage patch is extremely far from any country’s coast,
no country is ready to accept responsibility or decide a budget that
would be required to clean it. However, many international environmental
organizations have joined hands and decided to stop the patch from

The common man can also ensure that no more plastic is thrown away in
the sea or on land by following the proper methods of disposition, or
minimizing the usage of plastic whenever they can.