The Shuogang group steel factory on the outskirts of Beijing. Despite the government promising to close all major polluting factories within city limits following the 2008 Olympics, several are still operating behind closed doors. At dawn everyday the factory waste-water pipe illegally spews hazardous chemicals into a local dried up lake. The accumulated green and brown deposits contain poisonous heavy metal deposits which are visible here.
Mumbai-born photographer Souvid Datta, who previously documented the sobering lives of sex workers and children in India, has turned his attention to the rampant pollution affecting modern-day China.
His series ‘China: The Human Price of Pollution’ examines how the country’s rapid economic growth has led to devastating effects on its population and environment.
It is estimated that pollution causes 3.5 million deaths in China every year. The worst-hit are rural areas near chemical, pharmaceutical, or power plants, where disease rates have hit five times the national average.
Earlier this year, concentrated levels of pollutants from 200 coal-fired power plants in Beijing hit 40 times over the safety limit set by the World Health Organization.
Datta’s images highlight the direness of the situation, from factories illegally pumping hazardous chemicals into lakes and skylines shrouded in thick smog, to poignant stories of families affected by the deaths of loved ones due to pollution-related illnesses like cancer and respiratory problems.
Scroll down for a selection of images below and view the entire series here.
Jamyang is originally from a small town in inner Mongolia. She moved to Beijing following the desertification of her local arable land. Her youngest son died of colon cancer in 2010 as a result of chromium poisoning from a waste dumping site near their village, and her husband committed suicide subsequently. She now lives in tiny slum accommodations on the outskirts of Beijing with her elder son, both struggling to work as street vendors and rag pickers. She is one of China’s growing generation of eco-migrants.
Jaw-long (tallest) stands with his friends in front of his house in Nuguang village on the outskirts of Xingtai. The portraits behind depict his father and uncle who both worked in the nearby steel factory and died due to undiagnosed respiratory problems. Jaw-long has dropped out of school to help his mother with her glass recycling business.
On the outskirts of Xingtai, Zhang Wei mourns his brother, a worker in the steel factory behind who died from lung cancer. The small local village has seen over 30 cancer related deaths in the past 15 years, making it one of the several unacknowledged Cancer Villages dotted around China.
Beijing’s 2nd largest illegal landfill site; a factory and modern high-rises stand but 500m away. In 2008 Beijing’s notorious ‘7th ring road’ was described as a circle of landfill and garbage disposal sites encompassing the city. Following the Olympics promises were made to clear up these sites. Several still exist however, now cordoned off to public access or hidden within slum settlements.
The waste-water treatment plant inside Youngor textiles factory in Ningbo. Often the colour is purple, dark brown or (as pictured here) deep blue after treatment. Official guidelines require the waste-water to be clear and diluted to 1/100 parts.
Xingtai was China’s most polluted city of 2013—a small industrial town in the south of Hebei province. Its only green space is the ‘Artificial Park’, which is seen here with an ice covering hiding the tons of garbage that have been dumped within by local business owners. The lake is pumped by the same water supply that reaches thousands of poorer locals within city walls.
Smog shrouds the Beijing skyline early on one Winter morning, as monuments such as the Forbidden City and the modern Cultural Exhibition centre are faintly visible across the river. In 2013 Beijing’s fine particle air pollution level reached unprecedented hazard levels that exceeded the UN's monitoring scales four-fold. With rapid economic growth, an ambitious, populous youth, and worldwide competition, it is still very unclear whether China will meet any of its environmental responsibilities.
[via BuzzFeed, images and captions via Souvid Datta]