The Chinese agricultural economy has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. The transition from communal and shared plots to privately managed ones and access to the market economy has provided greater incentives for increasing productivity. This has increased the demand of fertilisers -- from 1990 to 1994 fertiliser use increased from 25.9 million tonnes to 33.1 million tonnes. About 70 per cent of the fertiliser is applied inefficiently. This seeps into the groundwater. Animal and human waste, nitrates from fertilisers and phosphates from detergents are all contributing to eutrophication and algal blooms of not only the freshwater sources but the coastal water as well.
In May 2001, a government release said that a huge red tide of red algae measuring some 2,800 sq km was spotted in the East China Sea near the mouth of the Yangtze river around the Zhoushan Isles off the densely populated city of Shanghai. A red tide is a densely populated algae bloom that breeds in abundance, produces poisons that paralyse and kill fish by consuming virtually all the oxygen in the water. The report said experts had predicted 30 major outbreaks this year in China's coastal waters, posing great danger to the fishery and aquaculture industries.
In small plots of land in cities, people cultivate vegetables or run animal farms to meet the urban demand for vegetable, meat and dairy products. The agricultural plots are irrigated with sewage water and are often treated with pesticides and fertilisers and the animal farms produce a lot of animal waste. All these contaminants end up in the local surface waters.
Recent studies have shown how those who drink water contaminated by industrial effluents are at a greater risk of developing cancer, especially that of the liver and the gastrointestinal tract. Pregnant women are at an especially high risk of experiencing health difficulties.
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