Chongjin factories releasing contaminated water into local streams

Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory satellite imagery
Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory satellite imagery. Image Google Earth

Contaminated water from factories in Chongjin is being released into local streams, according to sources in North Korea.

“A water purification facility was constructed in 2018 at the Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory, but is failing to properly process the waste water from the factory,” a North Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK. “Unfiltered wastewater is being released and is contaminating nearby streams and the sea.”

The North Korean Cabinet-run media outlet, Minju Chosun, reported in 2017 that the Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory had upgraded its boilers and that a waste water purification facility was being built.

The facility was built through a “speed battle,” however, which suggests that it may have been constructed rapidly but with quality issues.

A separate source in North Hamgyong Province reported that the wastewater purification facility was built to protect the environment, “but it’s just allowing more wastewater to enter local streams and the sea.”

“Susong Stream, which is nearby, has such a bad smell that local residents call it Poop Stream,” he quipped.

A “speed battle” is an approach used by the North Korean authorities to complete projects in a short amount of time, but often at the expense of quality and safety, and has even led to deaths.

Following the failed US-North Korea summit in Hanoi, North Korea has placed emphasis on “speed battles” as part of efforts to increase national development through “self-sufficiency.”

The Rodong Sinmun reported on May 22 that “government employees, party members, and workers must redouble the spirit of self-sufficient North Korea by making heroic great achievements as part of the Mallima Speed (10,000-mile horse speed) Battle.”

The Chongjin Chemical and Textile Factory is North Korea’s largest rayon pulp production facility and produces thousands of tons of textiles per year. Analysts note that if wastewater from the factory is being released into local streams without proper treatment, it will likely have a negative environmental and social impact.

“Wastewater released from the rayon pulp production process is not fatal to human beings,” said Lee Ho Sik, a professor at Korea National University of Transportation. “However, if local residents drink contaminated stream water, they may suffer health issues.”

Rayon pulp is a wood-based natural fiber and the consumption of wastewater contaminated with rayon pulp can cause health problems.

“Most countries that have GNI less than 10,000 USD suffer from poor environmental and wastewater management. North Korea is clearly in this category,” Lee added. “These problems directly impact the health of North Koreans so there’s a need for efforts from the private sector to resolve them.”