Disposal techniques so far have ranged from having it burned, buried and mixed into coal. The most astounding method used thus far? One trash-hauling company dumped a load into a river, turning the waters a frothy white and raising fears about the safety of the drinking water. Really, dumping it into water used for drinking? Isn’t that basically how this whole mess started in the first place?!
Tens of thousands of tons of milk laced with melamine, a chemical used in making fertilizer and plastics, have been pulled from shelves and warehouses since September, and local governments now face the huge — and costly — problem of safely disposing of it.
Last month alone, more than 32,000 tons — enough to fill about 23 Olympic-sized pools — were disposed of in a single province, Hebei, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
At a factory in the southern city of Guangzhou, tons of contaminated milk powder were incinerated in 3,000-degree heat.
"All the remaining substance will be put into cement," said Wang Fan, director of Guangzhou’s food safety office. "Our disposal process meets the national environmental protection requirements. It will not harm people’s health."
Not known for making environmental safety a priority, China has gotten good marks so far from scientists and environmentalists in its efforts to dispose of the adulterated milk.
Beijing has issued new guidelines on how to destroy the tainted products. They recommend burning the milk in large-capacity incinerators or, if such facilities aren’t available, burying small amounts in landfills — as long as local environmental bureaus approve.
Burning or burying breaks down melamine and neutralizes its toxicity, said Peter Ben Embarek, a Geneva-based scientist at the World Health Organization’s food safety department.
"We’re talking about very large quantities so it’s very important that these products are being destroyed in a proper way," he said in a telephone interview.
"Burying is OK if it is done in official, controlled waste disposal sites," he said. "We don’t want to see products buried in illegal dumping places."