Poison and its Consequences

Poisoning of the air, land, and waters is the legacy of the USSR, and is an ongoing legacy of modern communist China.

From the days of the USSR:

The mountains of solid wastes, and lakes of liquid ones, near most heavy industry in Poland, the Czech Republic, the former German Democratic Republic, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Estonia and other countries are probably the most visible environmental legacy of the former system. Storing wastes in open ponds, or on the ground (with practically no protection against percolation), was common. __ Toxic Legacy of USSR

Unfortunately, Russia has not devoted credible resources to cleaning the massive levels of poisons. Indeed, in many ways, Russia’s government is allowing its nation’s lands, air, and waters to become even more dangerously poisoned.


China’s toxic legacy has grown severe in recent years, and threatens to become as large or larger than the USSR / Russia toxic legacy.

China has 135 million hectares (334 million acres) of arable land in total, but the amount of available high-quality arable land has been dropping due to advancing urbanization and pollution. According to the recently released data, the government classifies more than 3 million hectares of arable land as moderately polluted. How much of that is contaminated with heavy metals is still not clear, though in 2011, Wang Bentai, then chief engineer of the State Environmental Protection Agency (now the Ministry of Environmental Protection) put lead, zinc, and other heavy metal pollution at 10 percent of China’s arable land. By official estimates, pollution cuts China’s harvests by 10 billion kg every year. ___ http://e360.yale.edu/feature/chinas_dirty_pollution_secret_the_boom_poisoned_its_soil_and_crops/2782/

China is paying a price in cancer villages, birth defects, and in other ways. That is one reason China needs to expand into lands with cleaner soils and waters — such as the Siberian far east.

At least 1 million babies are born with defects in China each year, an incidence rate of 60 out of every 1,000.

“The rate is three times that of developed countries,” Professor Li Zhu, director with the National Center for Maternity and Infant Health said…

Apart from late childbearing, birth defects occur for many other reasons, including insufficient consumption of certain trace elements primarily folic acid and iodine, exposure to health hazardous pollutants, and long term unhealthy lifestyles.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that birth defects affect one in 10 Chinese households, imposing a total annual financial burden of 1 billion yuan. ___ http://www.china.org.cn/english/health/224265.htm

The problem is likely to grow far worse, given China’s rapid industrial expansion — and the lack of interest from China’s governments in cleaning up the deadly mess. China is steadily poisoning its own farmlands, its rivers, and its air, and is being forced to look elsewhere for lebensraum.

Russians have problems of their own, dating from the toxic legacy of the USSR, but continuing to this day:

50 percent of Russia’s water is not potable. Air pollution continues to be an extremely serious issue, suggesting that a solution proposed during the late-Soviet period continues to hold sway. Back then, a Russian health minister advised the country to “breathe less” in order to live longer.

According to Murray Feshbach, a Georgetown professor emeritus and the dean of Russian demography in the United States, Russia’s working-age population is also declining by a million people a year, a faster rate than the decline of the overall population, which in 2013 stood at around 143 million, 3 million less than when Putin took office. Moreover, only 30 percent of Russian babies born are born healthy. …many unhealthy Russian babies are “discarded” —sent to government institutions where they often develop cognitive difficulties. Unhealthy children grow up to be unhealthy adults: half of the conscripted Russian army has to be put in limited service because of poor health. ___ http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2014/03/numbers-vladimir-putin-doesnt-want-you-to-see

These are things that can be obscured from public view for a time, along with the growing numbers of Russia’s few healthy boys dying inside Ukraine in a war that is not theirs. With total control of media, and sufficient armies of propaganda writers, Putin can manage his serfs — for now.

Proof of Russian army base inside Ukraine

Russians still take pride in the vast national landholdings, and are suspicious of China’s rapid moves into the more pristine parts of Russia. Unfortunately for Russians, China’s impending takeover of much of Siberia is a virtual fait accompli.

More than 75 percent of agricultural land in the Jewish autonomous region — also close to China — is controlled by the Chinese, according to Alexander Gabuyev, a China expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center think thank.

China’s growing influence in Russia is also reflected in the number of Chinese tourists, who for the first time this year became the largest group of foreign tourists visiting Russia.

…. Despite assertions made by President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during the latter’s visit to Moscow in May that Russia-China relations are “at their highest level ever,” it suddenly became starkly evident that some members of the Russian elite — as well as the public at large — still see their rapidly flourishing eastern neighbor as a threat. ___ http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/deep-seated-fears-of-chinese-expansion-mar-budding-alliance-with-russia/524381.html

Putin has no choice but to open Russia to Chinese exploitation. Perhaps he feels this human and economic tide from the southeast it is a necessary evil, which he will be able to reverse in coming years. More likely, he is making cold calculations to keep himself in power for as long as possible.

We are seeing the consequences of poisoning in two of the world’s largest and most belligerent imperialist nuclear powers. This spreading pool of poisons will inevitably pit the dragon against the bear. The bear is trying to survive, while doing some quick land-grabs on its western frontiers. The dragon is trying to become a powerful hegemon — first in Asia, then in the world at large.

But both powers are being menaced by their own poisonous legacies — along with significant problems of corruption, demography, and badly balanced economies. Most analysts fail to see these powers in their entirety, and in their frailty. That would be a mistake, since belligerent nations such as these have often gone to war to cover up internal weaknesses and to prevent internal rebellion.

More on China’s poisoned soil and “cancer villages”:

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/chinas_toxic_trail_leads_from_factories_to_food/2784/

The government has consistently refused to make comprehensive soil pollution data public. In 2013, a Beijing lawyer Dong Zhengwei requested the data, including information on causes, and methods for dealing with it, from the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The request was refused, on the grounds that the data was a “state secret.” A strong public reaction to this refusal was one of the factors behind the release of limited information at the end of 2013, and, despite its lack of detail, the data released caused widespread concern.

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_soil_pollution_crisis_in_china_a_cleanup_presents_daunting_challenge/2786/

Turning polluted farmland into commercial or residential land is a policy that carries its own risks. When houses are built on contaminated land, construction workers and residents can be exposed to health risks. In one notorious case from 2007 in Wuhan, the capital of Hebei Province, a construction site that had previously been occupied by a pesticide factory was reclassified for residential development. The project was halted when a construction worker was hospitalized with chemical poisoning and the government was obliged to return the purchase price of the land, pay $19 million in compensation to the developer, and spend an additional $44 million to clean up the site. How many other residential districts in China have been built on contaminated land, nobody knows.

https://www.vice.com/read/photographs-of-chinas-cancer-villages

And it is not just the enemies of Putin who are being poisoned. Russia as a whole is suffering a lingering — and a building — toxicity. Massive spills and dumps of toxic waste continue.

Toxic Russia

You would think that by now, Russia would have made a good start in cleaning up the Soviet toxic legacy. Sadly, not.

China and Russia cut corners, and don’t bother to deal with the aftermath. Consider that when musing over which of the world’s great powers need to be hamstrung first.

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One Response to Poison and its Consequences

  1. jccarlton says:

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    The old Soviet Union was the dirtiest country in history. That’s because there was no feedback and no recourse by the citizenry. Think about that when you advocate for more government controls. The government owned the large polluters outright and it’s amazingly cheap to bribe inspectors and officials to look the other way. Which is one of China’s big problems. The high taxes that they US demands from corporations encourages the transfer of production to places where there are no environmental concerns and regulating everything to the point of zero emissions here in the States only transfers the pollution to somebody else.

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