Guangzhou Mayor Leads Mass Swim in Polluted River
Guangzhou Mayor Zhang Guangning fired a starter's gun before leading more than 3,500 people in a much hyped swim across the river, China's third longest, whose lower reaches had been seriously polluted by rapid industrialisation.
The swim, an annual event, was abandoned in the 1970s because of the chronic pollution and resurrected only last year.
Years of promoting economic growth at almost any cost have taken their toll of China's environment, though growing rural discontent caused by dirty water and other pollution has pushed Beijing to promote cleaner growth.
A state media website quoted Zhang as saying the aim of the mass swim was to "make the local residents become aware of the importance of pollution control."
A government report released in May said pollution at the mouth of the Pearl River delta was "extremely severe," and that 8.3 billion tonnes of sewage, much of it untreated, was flushed into the province's coastal waters last year, a 60 percent jump from 2001.
Sunday's 800-metre swim was meant to hail the success of recent cleanup initiatives including new sewage treatment plants -- but some swimmers weren't convinced.
"The water really stinks over there," said one participant surnamed Zhao, who rinsed his mouth with a freshwater hose at the finish. "You can see. The water's black," he added.
Ma Jun, a leading environmental campaigner and water pollution expert, said water pollution was worse in other parts of China. "In many other cities, the water quality is much worse ... The Pearl River is one of the cleaner rivers," Ma said.
Several large freshwater lakes including Taihu Lake were recently blanketed with toxic green-blue algae, feeding on effluent discharged from nearby farms, homes and factories. Millions in nearby Wuxi city had tap water cut off as a result.
Underground water reserves in 9 out of every 10 Chinese cities are now polluted or over-exploited, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration.