The prairie of the East Ujumchin Banner in Inner Mongolia is being threatened by illegal mining of zinc-iron ores. The wastewater and waste slag pollution created by mining operations pose a threat not only to the local ecosystem, but to the livelihoods of local herdsmen and members of a local Production Collectivity Team as well. Decimation of the prairie’s vegetation due to both natural and human causes is leading to desertification and fierce sandstorms in north China.
Greener Beijing Institute, a grassroots environmental NGO in China, launched an effort to address this pollution problem in July of 2002 with funding from the Blacksmith Institute. They organized a team of experts to assess various polluted prairie sites and propose methods for clean-up, provided legal assistance to the local victims of pollution, and raised public awareness of the problem through the media and the Internet. Greener Beijing completed a study focused on the Dongwu Banner and brought the area’s pollution to the attention of the National Environment Bureau. The study discovered that effluent from an illegal paper mill in the region contains hydroxybenzene (a.k.a phenol, carbolic acid, monohyroxybenzene) and hydrargyrum (a.k.a mercury) far surpassing state limits. The wastewater reservoir has leaked several times and surrounding grasslands have been polluted. Greener Beijing suspects pollution of the groundwater.
The prairie project continues with a focus on the illegal paper mill which opened on local herdsmen’s lands. However, more authoritative research results and pressure from international groups are needed to compel full government action. Action will include developing research and advocacy to bring about proper pollution control or eventual closure of the mill.
After several years of effort, Greener Beijing, an environmental NGO, succeeded in putting pollution from illegal mining and industry in Inner Mongolia onto the national agenda in mid-2005. Blacksmith Institute has been supporting Greener Beijing since 2002 to work on this issue and assist local communities affected by pollution to gain compensation. Subsequently, a large-scale paper mill that was one of the chief polluters in the area was shut down, but without cleaning up the toxic benzene that has contaminated local groundwater. Blacksmith Institute plans to fund a remediation program at this site and medical treatment for the affected local population.