How Putrefying Pigs Pollute Water

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Despite thousands of dead pigs floating in Shanghai’s Huangpu River, the water is supposedly safe to drink according to the Chinese government, at least after passing through Shanghai’s treatment system.

Really?

Filtration systems might be able to handle a normal load of filth in the water of the Huangpu River, but 6,000 dead swine may be pushing it, Julian Fyfe, a water quality research consultant at the University of Technology Sydney, told CNN. However, the Shanghai water treatment system may be able to minimize the risk.

“If they are chlorinating heavily, which a lot of places may do, especially if they’ve got a very polluted water body to start with, then the effects could potentially be small,” Fyfe said.

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However, if I was visiting the area, I think I’d stick to pijiu, Chinese for beer. Or bottled water, as many of Shanghai’s 23 million residents are doing.

What about those who can’t afford bottled water? Adding extra bleach to tap water would be a cheaper alternative to bottled water, but that would only serve to kill pathogens, not filter out toxic chemicals.

Putrefying pigs produce a wide variety of noxious and toxic chemicals. Aptly-named putrescine and cadaverine are two foul-smelling and toxic byproducts of decomposing flesh. Ammonia is also released, as is highly-toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. Considering the Huangpu flows through downtown Shanghai, the gas problem may pose health concerns as well.

Rotting animals also serve as a smorgasbord for bacteria. After death, many of the organisms in an animals gut immediately go to work eating their former hosts from the inside out. For pigs floating in an already-polluted river, there would be no shortage of other bacteria from the environment that would be happy to take advantage of a free ham.

In addition to the byproducts of putrefaction, the pigs have added in their own disease to the filthy broth of the Huangpu. Xinhua news agency reported finding porcine circovirus in the river’s water. The virus isn’t known to cause disease in humans, according to the World Health Organization.

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Drinking straight from the Huangpu river could potentially be deadly, even without the thousands of pigs. Shanghai dumps millions of tons of sewage into the Huangpu every year.

IMAGE: The Huangpu River in downtown Shanghai. (Jakub Hałun, Wikimedia Commons)

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