A team from Greenpeace East Asia's Detox campaign recently discovered an unsettling sight off the coast of South Eastern China. Next to the city of Shishi, a centre for children's clothing production, they discovered a huge black plume of wastewater around the size of 50 Olympic swimming pools on the sea's surface; a large dark scar on the water easily visible via satellite imagery.
Further research indicated that this plume was coming out of a discharge pipe from the Wubao Dyeing Industrial zone and more specifically, the Haitian Environmental Engineering Co. Ltd wastewater treatment plant which serves 19 of Shishi's textile dyeing facilities.
The toxic water pollution scandal uncovered at Wubao, Shishi is just the tip of the iceberg. In China alone there are 435 discharge points like the one serving Wubao, spanning the coast and releasing 32.2 billion tons of wastewater into the sea each year. In 2012, a staggering 68% of them had records for illegal discharge while 25% had never met national environmental standards, according to official data from China's state Ocean Administration.
The use of hazardous chemicals during the manufacture of children's clothing poses a large-scale problem in China and around the world. Not only is it leading to environmental pollution locally, as seen from the discharges in Wubao, residues of these substances can also be found amongst the millions of products, sold and exported across China and to countries all over the planet from textile towns such as Shishi and Zhili. For example, 70 – 80% of products produced in Shishi are exported to countries in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Southeast Asia and Africa.