VIDEO: Six Thousand Dead Pigs Dumped in Chinese River Trigger Water Safety Fears
A porcine circovirus is found in a water sample as Weibo skeptics voice concerns
By Madison Park Dayu Zhang and Josh Levs
March 13, 2013
HONG KONG (CNN) -- About 6,000 dead, bloated pigs have been pulled so far from the river that flows through the center of Shanghai. And Chinese officials say they expect to find more carcasses in the river -- but they insist the city's water is fine.
Meanwhile, a court in Zhejiang Province, in the eastern part of the country, issued prison sentences Wednesday for 46 people convicted of selling meat from diseased pigs, state-run news agency Xinhua said.
The sentences ranged from six months to 6 and a half years in prison, the report said.
The “dead pig dumping scandal” in neighboring Shanghai has been growing since Friday, Xinhua reported. The corpses “were allegedly dumped in the river by pig farms in Zhejiang's Jiaxing City.”
The scandal has incredulous residents one-upping each other on the country's popular microblog service, Sina Weibo.
“Since when is finding dead rotting pigs in a major river not a public health problem?” Weibo user, @Muyunsanjun2011, asked. “Answer: When this happens in China.”
A report in the Shanghai Daily newspaper earlier Wednesday said that no pollution had been found in the river.
“Since apparently, the water has not been contaminated, big leaders, please go ahead and have the first drink,” Weibo user,@_Nina_Burbage quipped.
However, a later water sample was found to contain a porcine circovirus, Xinhua said.
The World Health Organization says there are two types of porcine circoviruses, but neither is known to cause disease in humans.
An official from a Shanghai water plant was quoted in Xinhua saying, “If the water is contaminated, we will put more the disinfectants and activated carbon to purify the water.”
'Dead pigs all around'
Sanitation workers, clad in masks and plastic suits, have been fishing the bruised pig bodies surfacing in the Huangpu River. The pink, decomposing blobs have wreaked foul odors and alarmed residents.
“There were dead pigs all around and they really stunk,” one local resident told CNN. “Of course, we're worried, but what can you do about it? It's water that we have to drink and use.”
If the water treatment process is very effective and can handle the sudden glut of contaminants, it's possible to minimize the impact, said Julian Fyfe, a senior research consultant specializing in water quality at the University of Technology Sydney.
However, “most treatment plants would not be designed to accommodate that level of shock loading. It's such an unusual event,” he added.
Fyfe spoke in general terms about water quality issues, as he is not involved with Shanghai's water treatment.
“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.
Pig corpses that have been in the water for days would leak blood, intestinal fluids and other pollutants, which could alter the taste and color of tap water.
Many residents have begun drinking bottled water due to fears of contamination, according to the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper.
Ripe for satire
The agricultural commission in China said it had tested organ samples from the pigs and the results suggested the animals had contracted a porcine circovirus.
On Tuesday, national officials acknowledged the pig incident in a press conference Tuesday.
“According to monitoring statistics, there's no evidence to show that there's an outbreak of any major animal epidemics,” said Chen Xiaohua, the national vice minister of agriculture. “But in the meantime, the incident shows how we need to improve our work in the future.”
The situation appeared ripe for satire.
A movie poster for “Life of Pi” was doctored and replaced with “Life of Pigs,” with the main character's boat filled with dead pigs, and the water dotted with the bruised corpses.
One weibo user, @Fujiadiandianxiaoya, joked: “I finally figured out why drinking boiled water makes me gain weight -- because it is in fact pork soup!”
Local authorities say they're looking into how the pigs ended up in the river.
One possible factor, reported in the Chinese media, is a disease that killed thousands of pigs in a village south of Shanghai.
Officials in Jiaxing had blamed the dumping on some “local pig farmers who lack awareness of laws and regulations.”
The labels in the ears of the pigs found in the Huangpu River indicate they could have come from Jiaxing City, according to Xinhua. But officials say the tags only indicate place of birth, so the pigs could've come from somewhere else.
Another official told the Shanghai Daily that the water doesn't necessarily flow from Jiaxing to Shanghai.
CNN's Madison Park and Dayu Zhang reported from Hong Kong; CNN's Josh Levs reported from Atlanta. CNN's David McKenzie and Elizabeth Joseph contributed to this report.