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Amid China air, water pollution, soil survey reveals century-old heavy metals

Soil samples across China have revealed remnants of toxic heavy metals dating back at least a century and traces of a pesticide banned in the 1980s, an environmental official said on Wednesday, revealing the extent of the country’s pollution problems.

Street-level anger over air pollution that blanketed many northern cities this winter spilled over into online appeals for Beijing to clean water supplies, especially after rotting corpses of thousands of pigs were found last month in a river that supplies tap water to Shanghai.

Now Zhuang Guotai, head of the ecological department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said a nationwide soil survey showed the countryside had paid a heavy price for an agricultural revolution that has seen grain production almost double in the last 30 years, despite a much reduced workforce.

Soil pollution is regarded as one of China’s most serious health threats, contaminating the food chain with pesticide and fertilizer run-offs as well as toxic elements like lead, arsenic and cadmium.

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