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Why do lakes in China turn green? Report finds surprising new culprit.

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Nir Elias/Reuters/File

(Read caption) In this July 2008 file photo, volunteers clear away a large algae bloom from waters off of Qingdao, China, ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

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When you think of pollution in China, you tend to think first of smokestacks and smog-bound factory landscapes and lead-poisoned children and fields coated in coal dust.

They all exist, of course. But a Chinese government report published Tuesday points out a little known fact: Nearly half of the pollutants that poison China’s waterways come from farms.

Agriculture, in one form or another, is to blame for 43 percent of China’s “chemical oxygen demand” or COD – a commonly used measurement for water pollution – according to a new census of pollution sources.

“This is the most significant finding of the report,” says Ma Tianjie, a spokesman at the Beijing office of Greenpeace. “These are largely unseen threats, invisible to the public.”

Every now and again they become visible – when a lake turns vivid green or bright blue for example, because the nitrogen runoff from fields has fed algae that bloom extravagantly.

Those algae also suck all the oxygen out of the water, and the fish suffocate. It happens quite a lot in China.


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