The Yellow River travels through major industrial areas, China’s major coal producing region and huge population centers. By one count 4,000 of China’s 20,000 petrochemical factories are on the Yellow River and a third of all fish species found in the Yellow River have become extinct because of dams, falling water levels, pollution and over fishing.
More than 80 percent of the Hai-Huaih Yellow river basin is chronically polluted. Four billion tons of waste water—10 percent of the river’s volume—flows annually into the Yellow River. Canals that empty into it that were once filled with fish are now purple from the red waste water from chemical plants. The water is too toxic to drink or use for irrigation and kills goats that drink from it.
In October 2006, a one kilometer section of the Yellow River turned red in the city of Lanzhou in Gansu Province as result of a “red and smelly” discharge from a sewage pipe. In December 2005, six tons of diesel oil leaked into a tributary of the Yellow River from a pipe that cracked because of freezing conditions. It produced a 40 mile long slick. Sixty-three water pumps had to be shut down, including some in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province.
Every year the Yellow River absorbs 1 million tons of untreated waste from the city of Xian alone. A report issued in November 2008, declared that two thirds of the Yellow River is heavily polluted by industrial waste and is unsafe to use. The Yellow River Conservancy Committee said that 33.8 percent of the samples taken from the river in various places registered worse than Level 5, meaning it was unfit for drinking, agriculture or industrial use. Only 16.1 percent of the samples reached Level 1 or 2—water considered safe for household use. The survey found that 73 percent of the pollutants came from industry, 23 percent came from households and 6.4 percent from “other sources.” The report did not identify specific pollutants.
Around 50 percent of the river has been designated as biologically dead. In some areas along the river there have dramatic increases in cancer, birth defects and waterborne disease, Cancer rates in some places are so high they have been designated cancer villages. Among these is Xiaojidian, a village in Shandong on tributary of the Yellow River. Water from tanneries, paper mills and factories is blamed from causing 70 people to die of stomach or esophageal cancer in five year in a village with only 1,300 people. More than a thousand other in 16 neighboring villages have also died.