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Schools nervous over burial sites for culled animals

Posted February. 21, 2011 10:53,   


A tomb-like object was seen Friday afternoon behind Yangshin Elementary School at the village of Buncheon-ri in Yesan County, South Chungcheong Province. It turned out to be a burial site for livestock culled due to foot-and-mouth disease.

Spotted around the burial site was fluid that appeared to be leachate from the site, measuring around 10 meters wide by 10 meters long. Gas emission pipes were erected atop the burial site, which was protruding and covered with vinyl. It was only about 70 meters from the school’s fence.

On the school grounds was a piped well for pumping underground water. Since tap water is not supplied to this school, underground water was used as drinking water. The underground water well and the burial site were only 150 meters apart.

According to Yesan County, pigs at a farm behind the school were confirmed to have been infected with foot-and-mouth disease on Jan. 26. More than 1,100 pigs were culled and buried.

Yangshin principal Kim Gwang-tae said, “When I looked around the school on Feb. 7, I was shocked,” adding, “While we were away from school due to winter vacation and the Lunar New Year’s holidays, a burial site for culled pigs was created behind the school.”

○ Schools using underground water fearful ahead of back-to-school season

Amid growing fears over environmental pollution caused by leachate leaked from the burial sites of culled livestock, schools in rural areas that use underground water for drinking are increasingly afraid just seven days ahead of back-to-school season.

The Dong-A Ilbo conducted Sunday a survey on addresses through the village level of 4,237 burial sites for culled livestock nationwide as released by provincial and municipal governments and those of 727 (as of late last year) elementary and middle schools that use underground water for drinking. The survey found that the addresses of the burial sites and schools coincided at 50 locations.

When Dong-A contacted the schools, many responded that they are “worried ahead of back-to-school season.”

A Dong-A reporter visited Friday afternoon Jungri Elementary School at the township of Gwanin-myeon in Pocheon County, Gyeonggi Province. From the single-story building of the school, a burial site for culled animals was visible through the window just 350 meters away from the school and less than five minutes on foot.

More than 9,000 pigs and cows had been buried at the site. As herds of crows hanged around the burial site, the area looked gloomier.

Lee Min-seong, a physical education and public health teacher at the school, appeared anxious in saying, “Of course, I’m worried to think that fluid leaked from the burial site could mix with the underground water children drink.”

The school cleans underground water with water purifiers and uses it as drinking water for students.

Moon Jae-jong, the father of a third-grader at the school, said, “We will pack water from a nearby mountain valley to drink at home and let my child take to school.”

○ Unaware of potential risks

A burial site of 300 culled animals was found about 900 meters from Bukhu Elementary School at the village of Janggi-ri in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province. A piped well was seen installed on the school’s grounds to pump underground water.

Worried over children’s health, school authorities visited the burial site a week ago with the township chief. Bukhu principal Nam Myung-ja said, “I have repeatedly urged the township chief to pay extra attention to ensure the underground water will not be polluted.”

Andong Yeongmyeong School at the village of Osan-ri in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, also told the reporter, “We are worried about children,” adding a burial site is about 100 meters away from the school.

A school source said, “We are using underground water. Since children have a weak immune system, our school is on high alert as well.”

Experts say pollution of underground water caused by leachate is far more serious than pollution of reservoirs for tap water, including the upper stream of the Han River. While tap water undergoes a purification process, people can drink underground water without the purification process even if it is polluted by leachate from the burial sites of culled animals.

○ Danger stemming from water veins

Most of the 50 schools whose addresses coincided with those of burial sites were not located close to burial sites. Many school staff members said that since they did not see a burial site at a nearby location, they were not worried about underground water safety, with one saying, “Since a burial site is far away, we have nothing to do with it.”

Though no specific standards exist, experts say underground water is safe if the well is at least 300 meters away from a burial site. Even if an underground water pump is far away from a burial site, however, experts say polluted water can be pumped if underground water veins are linked and might not necessarily be safe because a burial site is far away.