Magazine article Insight on the News

PRC Hopes to Enter Sewer Age; China Is Importing State-of-the-Art Technology and Know-How to Advance Its Waste-Treatment Infrastructure as It Prepares to Host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. (World: People's Republic of China)

Magazine article Insight on the News

PRC Hopes to Enter Sewer Age; China Is Importing State-of-the-Art Technology and Know-How to Advance Its Waste-Treatment Infrastructure as It Prepares to Host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. (World: People's Republic of China)

Article excerpt

The People's Republic of China is enlisting some of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) critics for help in bringing the land of night soil into the sunlight of modern plumbing. Apparently motivated by being selected to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, three of China's top ministers--the commissars for public health, the environment and agriculture--have been meeting with foreign contractors and civil engineers to discuss how China can avoid the adverse complications and controversies that disposing of sludge from wastewater-treatment plants has caused for their Western industrialized counterparts.

Sam Shepherd is a Houston-based engineer and chief executive officer of Bioset Inc., a firm that specializes in producing low odor, "sterile," Class A sludge, also known as biosolids. Shepherd, who is a critic of the more common practice of treating sludge to the less-expensive Class B standard, was invited to meet with officials from China in October to discuss plans for forthcoming wastewater-treatment plants to accommodate the updating of China's booming cities, especially Beijing.

In July 2001 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) selected Beijing as the host city for the 29th Olympiad in 2008. According to an IOC statement, the "Beijing Games would leave a unique legacy to China." One legacy the experience will leave is modern plumbing.

China is seeing green, and not just in the environment. Judging by the consultants they are seeking out, the comrades in Beijing may see the infrastructure project as an opportunity to one-up the West. It seems the Chinese are very sensitive about criticism received during discussions on the Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change concerning which nations should be financially responsible for industrial and other human pollution. Critics complained that the supposed environmental treaty's sanctions were focused more on the ability of wealthy nations to pay than on actual pollution by developing nations such as China.

Part of the price of receiving "most-favored nation" status from the United States to become a member of the World Wade Organization was the earmarking by Beijing of hundreds of billions of yuan for environmental-development projects, such as water and wastewater infrastructures. A commercial guide to doing business in China, produced by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, claims that China plans a 10 percent reduction of its pollutant discharge by 2005. Industrial wastewater-treatment equipment and resource-recovery technologies were listed among the few markets for those projects that will be open to foreign firms. "Spending on environmental protection during the five-year-plan period (2001-2005) is projected to reach 1.2 percent of GDP [gross domestic product], approximately $84 billion," the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service and State Department trade advisory says.

According to Shepherd, China is building high-rises that take up entire city blocks in Beijing and Shanghai. The development crush is compounded by the need to handle the waste of 65,000 people in one building. China has approximately 5.5 times the population of the United States. "They have one province that has nearly as many people in it as the entire population of the U.S." he notes. "And they truly want the one-upmanship over other countries that an environmentally superior system would give them. They are a very proud people. If they are given the opportunity, they will promote [whatever system they are convinced can] do well."

So the People's Republic is aggressively going after state-of-the-art technology to advance water-distribution systems, water-treatment and wastewater infrastructure throughout the country. Shepherd is hoping part of that effort will be Bioset's proposal, which breaks from the current U.S. industry conventions and converts the sewage-sludge residuals to a Class A standard. …

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