UCA News

Saving a vital Korean waterway from the killers within

A recent study revealed presence of hazardous toxins in the Nakdong River

Catholics from Daegu archdiocese in South Korea throw red clay balls into the Nakdong River as they rally to save the vital waterway from pollution

Catholics from Daegu archdiocese in South Korea throw red clay balls into the Nakdong River as they rally to save the vital waterway from pollution. (Photo: Daegu archdiocese)

Published: March 29, 2023 06:08 AM GMT

Updated: March 29, 2023 06:16 AM GMT

On a sunny spring day in the third week of March, dozens of Catholics from Daegu archdiocese rallied at Nakdong River Sports Park and threw red clay balls filled with eco-friendly microorganisms into the river water.

The gesture symbolized the efforts of local Catholics in Daegu, South Korea’s third-largest city and industrial hub, in removing toxins and purifying water of a major river that faces a threat due to pollution.

“Nakdong River is the lifeline for 13 million people who drink its water every day. We must save this reservoir to pass it down from generation to generation,” said Archbishop Thaddeus Cho Hwan-Kil, who joined the rally on March 18, four days before World Water Day.

More universal than Catholicism?
Mary among Asian religions

The Nakdong is South Korea’s longest river spanning about 523 kilometers. About a quarter of its river basin is used for cultivation of crops. Nakdong also supplies water for several cities along its course.

“The upstream water must be clean, the downstream water must be clean"

The demonstrators came from some 15 parishes led by the archdiocese’s Commission for Ecology, Farmers and Fisheries. Priests, parishioners and Sunday school students marched to express their concerns about the future of the vital river as recent studies suggest its water is being increasingly intoxicated.

“The upstream water must be clean, the downstream water must be clean,” the demonstrators chanted.

A recent study by the Korean River Society found the presence of toxins in the Nakdong River. The environmental group said microcystin was detected in rice grown with water from the Nakdong and Yeongsan rivers.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, microcystin is a potential carcinogen that can function as a catalyst causing cancer. The United States Environmental Protection Agency categorizes microcystin as a potent liver toxin.

According to the agency, cyanotoxins — the bacterial family to which microcystin belongs — can also kill livestock and pets that drink affected waters. Fish and bird mortalities have also been reported in water bodies with persistent cyanobacteria blooms.

Father Benedict Im Seong-ho, director of the archdiocesan ecological commission said there was no alternative than saving the river which sustains many wild animals and flora and fauna along its stretch and is utilized by millions for agriculture and industrial activities.

“The river is a home for wild animals and a place for feeding activities,” he said.

Earlier, Professor Lee Seung-jun from Pukyong National University in Busan had conducted a test on food samples from September to November last year and released the results that sparked a public outcry, The Korea Times reported.

"Stagnant waters have polluted agricultural land by generating microcystin"

According to Lee, six out of 20 samples from near the Nakdong River and one out of three samples from the Yeongsan River, contained the toxin from 0.51-1.92 microgram per liter — an amount exceeding the country's standard of 0.2 micrograms per liter of drinking water.

During his 2008-2013 tenure, President Lee Myung-bak had built 16 dams along the Nakdong, Han, Geum, and Yeongsan rivers to store water for industrial and agricultural purposes.

Parts of the rivers have been polluted with green algae due to water stagnation and ecosystem disruption caused by the dams, environmental observers say. Local activists have satirically dubbed the foam "green algae latte."

They have long argued that the stagnant waters have polluted agricultural land by generating microcystin.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety reported food samples such as rice, radish, and cabbage collected and evaluated across the country as safe to consume.

"No region in the European Union or the United States looks out for microcystin in managing their foods," the ministry had said when releasing the test results, The Korea Times reported.

"But some jurisdictions, including Korea, and the World Health Organization (WHO) enforce a standard level of microcystin to monitor the cleanness of their drinking water," the ministry added.

Environmental groups dismissed the ministry’s report, saying that the test samples used were not from locations with high levels of microcystin and alleged that the authorities deliberately avoided high risk locations.

The Korea Federation for Environmental Movements refuted the ministry’s arguments in a March 14 statement saying most of the sample-acquisition locations the ministry had released "had nothing to do with green algae."

During the Water Day event, the participants joined in “plogging” — a Swedish environmental practice that takes advantage of jogging and other outdoor sports to pick up litter spread across streets and natural spaces.

Father Im from Daegu archdiocese said the nation must save the river for the future.

“We must act today. We must reconsider the importance of the Nakdong River for future generations,” he said.

This report is brought to you in partnership with the 'Catholic Times' of Korea


Share your comments

Latest News

Asian Dioceses
Asian Pilgrim Centers
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia