Thousands of Dead Pigs Pulled from Shanghai River, Prompting Contamination Fears

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Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images

Sanitation workers collect a dead pig from Shanghai's main waterway on March 11, 2013. Nearly 3,000 dead pigs have been found floating in Shanghai's main waterway, the Chinese city's government said on March 11.

Don’t mind the floating dead pigs; the water is still safe to drink – or so say Shanghai officials after removing more than 2,800 carcasses from the Huangpu River since Friday, the Associated Press reports.

The river runs straight through the center of the eastern China metropolis and is one of the primary water sources for the 23 million people that inhabit China’s largest city. Locals are concerned that the carcasses – many of which were found with exposed organs – have tainted drinking water, but the financial hub’s monitoring authorities have said the water quality remains unaffected. Shanghai residents voiced their concerns on China’s Twitter-like social-media site Sina Weibo, alerting the greater region of the gruesome scene, CNN noted. Business investor Xue Manzi hinted at a possible cover-up in a post on his account: “Huangpu River is the source of drinking water for more than 20 million Shanghai residents. And this horrific incident was only made public when residents started posting pictures on Weibo.”

According to state news agency Xinhua, the pigs have been traced to Jiaxing city in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang, where authorities have admitted to dumping the cadavers. The outpouring of dead pigs comes on the heels of a recent crackdown in the illegal trade of contaminated pork, according to the AP.  China outlaws the sale of pigs that have died from particular diseases, but it was discovered farmers were offloading contaminated pork to slaughterhouses and subsequently ending up in markets.

(MORE: Environmental Protest Blocks Wastewater Pipeline Near Shanghai)

Authorities are investigating why the pigs were dumped into the river and what caused them to die, according to the Shanghai Agriculture Committee, but a “sometimes-fatal pig disease” associated with porcine circovirus has been detected in at least one of the carcasses, the AP adds. The disease is common among pigs but doesn’t affect humans or other livestock. Reports in local Chinese media did reveal that thousands of pigs were killed by the disease earlier this month.

However, the bloated, floating corpses are only the latest pollutants to clutter Zhejiang province’s notoriously dirty rivers — a fish placed in one river in Zhejiang province (as an experiment) died after just two hours in the water. Last month eyeglass entrepreneur Jin Zengmin illuminated just how polluted rivers are when he baited the chief of the local environmental-protection department with a $32,000 reward to swim in the river. It’s hardly a surprise that the official declined.

“When I was a child, people swam or washed vegetables in the river,” Jin told TIME. “But those factories use chemical raw materials to make shoes and dump their industrial waste directly into the river.” The dirty rivers underscore a larger environmental concern with China’s rapid urbanization in the past few decades. Earlier this year the nation came under siege for its poor air quality, as images of the capital of Beijing, hardly visible through thick, lingering smog, circulated around the Internet.

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