Nandan, located in China’s Guangxi province, is home to both the Diaojiang River and a heavy metals mine. The Diaojiang is the source of the Red River water system, which flows from Nandan County to the City of Hechi, providing water for more than three million people. However, since the opening of the mine in the 1980s, the river has been badly polluted with heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and zinc. This mine has not only discharged wastewater into the river, but also left tailings piled on riverbanks. These tailings wash into the river during storm seasons and as a result, fish and shrimp have died, riverbank farmlands cannot be cultivated, and downstream communities suffer from health problems.
In 1998, the Hechi City government launched the Diaojiang treatment project in order to build wastewater treatment facilities, which improved water quality significantly, but did not address the polluting tailings. Lack of funds and remediation technology further hampered cleanup, until Blacksmith joined with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences and Environmental Protection Bureau of Nandan County to address the issue.
As an initial strategy, Blacksmith organized a stakeholder group that met frequently during the project’s duration and rallied the community around remediation. Blacksmith developed a pilot cleanup plan for the polluted area at the origin of the Diaojiang, which was approved by the local Water Conservancy, Land, and Agriculture Bureaus and the Minerals Council.
Blacksmith’s demonstration project on heavy metal contamination at the Diaojiang—funded by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors—has been successful. The resulting project technical report provided a needed reference for the Environmental Protection Bureau of Nandan County to obtain more information and resources to tackle the problem.In addition, the Chinese government has designated the Nandan project as a central part of a national heavy metal treatment plan and has allocated nearly $16 million to the Environmental Protection Bureau of Nandan County to address the pollution. Together, these steps will advance the Nandan remediation project from a planning stage to that of treatment and field engineering.