Families in China Forced to Drink From a Contaminated ‘River of Gatorade’

Written by Emily Atkin

American Public Media’s Marketplace.org published a heartbreaking story of the hundreds of people in China who bathe in and drink from a stream that runs through the mining town of Majiapo, which just so happens to be bright orange.

The “winding river of gatorade” has been this way for nearly a year, and is caused by “acid mine drainage,” which is discharged acidic water from an abandoned coal mine. It is contaminated with sulfuric acid and heavy metals, according to Marketplace’s report, and has a strong taste of ammonia. Sometimes it stains the villagers’ skin orange. Other times it causes diarrhea.

“It’s completely toxic,” Ma Huiming, a resident of Majiapo, told Marketplace. “But we’re too poor to afford to drink anything else. I worry about what it’ll do to my children, what kind of diseases they’ll get. People who can afford to leave for the city have moved.”

The report says that this kind of coal cocktail is a problem throughout Shanxi province, which produces one-third of the country’s abundant coal. China currently has approximately 2,300 coal plants, but the Shanxi province in particular is known for having coal pollution problems. In 2007, rates of birth defects in the country had risen 40 percent since 2001, which Chinese officials at the time blamed on emissions from Shanxi’s large coal and chemical industries. In 2009, the BBC reported that those birth defects had soared with the occurrence of one of the worst droughts in 50 years, with the defects mainly showing up in the Shanxi province.

China is far from the first place to experience detrimental effects of acid mine drainage. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Susquehanna Valley region of Pennsylvania was a major source for anthracite coal, a hard, compact variety of coal. Because of the rapid boom in production, environmental precautions were not always taken, which resulted in the contamination of more than 3,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania. It is currently the most extensive water pollution problem affecting watersheds in Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The estimated cost for restoring those watersheds ranges from $5 billion to $15 billion.

Polluted water is just the latest environmental woe to pop up in China, which is in the midst of a pollution catastrophe. All last week, air pollution levels in Shanghai hovered at “heavily” and “severely” polluted, according to Shanghai’s Air Quality Index, at up to 31 times the recommended levels. In January, Beijing experienced its worst air pollution on record — levels of particulate matter topped out at 723 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers 25 or less micrograms per cubic meter ideal for human health. Above 300 is considered hazardous.

In October, air pollution nearly shut down the entire city of Harbin, and in December, extreme air pollution forced children and the elderly in Shanghai behind closed doors and windows for at least seven days.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: American Public Media


Tracy Guinn
Tracy Guinn4 years ago

What do you expect from a government that answers to no one. They do not believe in anything except themselves so there is no reason to be ethical. They simply are free to do whatever it takes to get as much power and wealth as they can for themselves. If a few million die as a result its no skin off their backs. That is government control! The people cannot just gather and protest the government might decide its a hassle and have them disposed of. Its why when they think there is a rabies problem they every so often start killing off pets. Its just what they do! Its why a lot of us here have stopped believing that lie about absolutely having to vote democrat or republican or the world will end! As I recall Washington was neither so we did exist before the two parties and I would bet you we would exist if conservatives and moderates got tired of being insulted by both parties and we joined up and voted libertarian. Then these multimillionaire politicians on both sides would poo their pants as we the people regained the power! After all they have a hard time believing we can even tie our own shoes or do something really mind boggling, like read a book!

Mark Donner
Mark Donner4 years ago

China (along with most of its "modern" greedy Asia brothers) has no culture whatsoever. China is simply a toxic and lethal cancer that is spreading to rest of the world

Frederick Stanley

The sad part of this story is, acid rain and contaminated water from mines all over the world is affecting lives of so many people, the mining companies are making big enough profits to clean up their act.

Dandelion G.
Sheryl G4 years ago

The Chinese people will have to band together and fight for environmental policies that will begin to improve their lives. Every Country should take care of it's people, animals, and environment; however they don't as they get paid to close their eyes and shut their mouths. Many times they even help the offending ones be able to do what they do for those who are elected get rich by it as well. Lots of corruption around the world and everyone is suffering because of it.

Alicia N.
Alicia N4 years ago

sadly noted ....

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers4 years ago

China should be ashamed of the way it treats its own people. Pollution affects the whole of the world. A fact they seem to be unaware of.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Dianne T.
Dianne T4 years ago

The rural areas of China are very different to the affluent cities. This pollution is awful and should be dealt with but while profits are king and care for the envrionment of no concern then I am sure this is only an isolated example of what is happening over and over again.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

China has never cared about pollution or toxins or disease from bacteria. Just these last months they had a big pig die-off from disease and how did they handle it?? They threw the diseased corpses into the river that supplies irrigation and drinking water for their people. China's people come after profits.

annie statton
christine s4 years ago

They seem to have no conscience but then it is mind control central.