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March 23, 2012

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Suzhou Creek clean-up initiative dredges up 114 wartime bombs

MORE than 100 unexploded bombs and shells have been dredged out of Suzhou Creek during a major clean-up project, officials said yesterday.

Some 114 pieces of ordnance, dating back to the Chinese War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression between 1937 and 1945, were found among 1.3 million cubic meters of mud removed from the riverbed.

Dredging began last January, the third and final phase of the 14 billion yuan (US$2.2 billion) "Suzhou Creek Treatment Project" that started in 1998.

Some bombs were spotted immediately, while others were not discovered until the mud was cleared at a landfill site for processing, said officials.

"We knew that we would find that type of thing," said Yuan Yunfeng, a senior engineer with the China Communications Construction No.3 Shipping Affairs Engineering Co that conducted the dredging.

"But never thought that there would be so many bombs."

At the end, said Yuan, unexploded bombs and shells were being found so frequently that a police bomb disposal squad was based at the site.

The project saw mud and debris from years of industrial and residential dumping - not to mention wars - cleared from the creek for the first time since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949.

"You can imagine how filthy the mud and how complex the operation is," said Cheng Huifeng, deputy director with the city dyke and sluice administration office.

"The priority is safety and environmental protection throughout the whole procedure," added Cheng.

In the first phase of the project, residents and hundreds of riverside factories were relocated and pollution sources gradually removed.

For the second phase, the area around the creek was landscaped.

And for the third phase dredging operation, more than 140 dredgers and transporters have been employed.

Every two days, transport barges have taken silt to a landfill at Laogang area by the coast. Roofs were fitted to the boats to contain the stink from their cargo.

Normally, mud scooped from the river bottom can be reused as fertilizer for greenery, but that removed from the creek is too heavily polluted.

Due to the presence of mercury and other heavy metals it was decided to bury the silt.

Although the work is dirty, there were also tales of treasure being uncovered among the mud.

"We heard rumors that some migrant workers didn't come back to work after dredging up gold, though it was never confirmed," said Cheng.

"But it's definitely true that antique collectors on the lookout for anything valuable gathered at the landfill where workers washed away the mud."

As the mammoth project nears completion, the city says the condition of the creek has improved substantially since 1998.

As pollution was reduced, water quality improved, with fish returning in 2001.

Maritime officials said tourism boat trips along the creek are due to start before the end of the month.

"We plan to create Shanghai's own Seine," said Shen Xiuping, the head of city maritime administration.


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