16 April 2014 — Here is a business opportunity for Australian companies skilled in cleaning up contaminated land.

Chinadialogue has reported that China lacks the experience to clean up its polluted soil.

Gao Shengda, secretary of the China Environmental Remediation Association, told Chinadialogue that experience in soil remediation was a limiting factor in assessing and treating soil, and Chinese companies were only just getting started.

Mr Shengda told Chinadialogue:

“It takes experience for a doctor to be able to write a prescription and tell you what medicine to take, how much, how often. Soil remediation companies also need to gather experience in assessing and treating soil, and in China these companies are only just getting started. It will take time for them to build up the technology, the personnel, the experience and the background. That’s a limiting factor.

“At the industry level, we need better technological skills. In the last ten years soil remediation work has mostly been carried out to allow for property development – usually soil is dug up and taken away for treatment elsewhere. That has prevented the sector developing a diverse range of approaches. Overseas it is more common for pollution to be dealt with in situ. That’s cheaper, but takes longer – from one or two years, to 10 or 20.”

Polluted land is a growing issue of concern for China, with 3.3 million hectares of land declared “moderately” polluted in 2013.

“The increased frequency of incidents is down to three reasons: first, soil and groundwater pollution is hidden, and previously it wasn’t a matter of concern. Environmental concerns start with what can be seen or felt: surface water pollution, air pollution. Only later does soil or groundwater pollution come to light. That’s been the experience in any country. Over the last two decades China has mainly been concerned with pollution of surface water and the air.

“Second, soil and groundwater have a certain environmental capacity – problems don’t become apparent until a certain degree of pollution has accumulated.

“Third, in urban areas soil pollution only came to light as industry moved out to make way for the service sector. In 2007, many urban industrial or mining concerns were relocated or shut down to make way for property development, but this exposed urban pollution. For example, in 2004, workers on Beijing’s Line 10 subway fell ill while working a site previously occupied by a pesticide plant. That made the public and the environmental authorities aware of the issue. Then there were similar cases with the Beijing 3rd Chemical Plant, Beijing Hongshi Paint Factory, Beijing Dye Factory, Beijing Coking Plant and Shougang Steel.”

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