Apartment project's toxic soil to be cleaned up in C China

By Jin Zhu and Guo Rui (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-04 10:33
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BEIJING - Illegal government-subsidized apartments built on toxic land in Wuhan, the capital of Central China's Hubei province, will be supervised to clean up the soil until it is safe enough to be lived on, local authorities said.

The 107,000-square-meter project includes 15 buildings, which can accommodate 6,400 people. The project also includes a kindergarten, parking space and stores.

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In November, soil on the site was found to be toxic due to severe pollution caused by a chemical plant that had once occupied the site, according to a statement by the Wuhan environmental protection bureau.

An area of 92,000 sq m was polluted with antimony and about 1,000 sq m suffered organic pollution, the statement said.

The report was released a month after the project was completed in October.

"The project was illegal because construction started without an official environmental check," an official from the bureau said at a press conference on Thursday.

"The soil restoration work will be examined by the bureau until the land is up to standard to live on," the official said.

The soil restoration was "basically completed", according to a notice circulated at the press conference.

The polluted area had been covered by geomembrane, an anti-seepage product, to prevent the pollutants in the soil from leaking and new clean soil had been put on top of the geomembrane, the notice said.

But the notice did not mention the exact size of the polluted area that had been cleaned up.

Antimony can irritate human eyes, noses, throats and skin, and with prolonged contact with the skin can damage people's hearts and livers.

All the apartments have been sold and some residents have already moved in, the Beijing News reported on Tuesday.

"My family has already moved in. I could do nothing but forbid my child to touch the sand on the ground," a resident surnamed Yan said in the report.

Some analysts have questioned the effectiveness of soil restoration methods.

"Toxicity in polluted soils can last for scores of years, and in some areas it can spread to neighboring land. Therefore, it's important to monitor polluted soils over a long period and to take appropriate control measures," said Lin Yusuo, a professor of soil pollution control at Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences.

The case in Wuhan attracted great public attention because many similar cases had occurred in recent years.

In one case, Wuhan Land Reserve Center paid compensation of 120 million yuan ($18 million) in February after it sold 186,667 sq m of toxic land to a developer. Three construction workers were poisoned while employed at the site.

The country's regulation on environmental quality control of soils was issued in 1995, but it largely focuses on standards of agricultural lands.

But environmental standards for residential and commercial properties in cities have not yet been included in the regulation.

Wang Shuyi, head of the Institute of Environmental Law at Wuhan University, said the drafting of the country's law for soil protection and pollution control is under way now.

"In the future law, land users' responsibility for soil protection and pollution control will be stressed. They will be supervised to ensure they deal with the polluted soil," he said.