Rivers aren't supposed to be opaque and white, right? The local river in Aodi, Zhejiang seems to have missed the memo, and it's not alone. In fact, it is the third river in China to have turned white in a month. In addition, the river in Chongqing turned red and Jiaxing has found an orange river from excess iron. Resident reactions range from anger at the business that caused the color change in the cases where the cause is known to confusion to bottling of the water to show off the colors to one fisherman going about his business as if the river turning read made no difference to him. Assuming that fish were still to be found in the river (unlikely, though possible if this were the first morning of the river being red,) it probably didn't make much difference-yet. From "normal" pollutants to corpses, all sorts of things have been reported in China's rivers, and the rather varied pollution doesn't seem to be slowing.
Why should it? The companies which are dumping white rock-dust or dyes or latex waste or iron ions have no economic incentive strong enough to make them clean their waste well enough to prevent this sort of event. The total costs of pollution are not paid completely by the companies doing the polluting, or even mostly by them in many cases. With much of the cost being paid by local residents who can not use the water to wash their clothes, water their fields, water their livestock, or drink themselves (even after the boiling that is needed to drink even unpolluted water in most of China,) there is little balance in who gains and who loses. The corporations which are dumping pollutants into the rivers are not paying much to do so (certainly less than it would cost to treat the water first, or else they would,) and the locals gain far less benefit from the corporate profits than the harm caused by inability to clean themselves or have water to drink.
This sort of externality is a large problem in pollution and climate change. If a corporation can make a cost external, they have no reason not to do so, and then the people paying the cost are not the corporation, profits are increased by the decreased costs, and people suffer. Rich countries send factories to poorer and developing countries, externalizing many of the pollution-based costs for themselves but causing the poorer countries to foot these costs, further increasing inequality.
No one wants to pay the price of slowing economic growth to help the environment, and no one wants to pay the price of pollution in their back yards to keep the economy running in the way it has been, and so we find that the richest keep the growth moving and externalize as many costs as possible to the poorest, often ignoring the cyclic effect of the economy leading to climate changes that affect poorer parts of the world more that then increase economic inequality, increasing environmental damage to the world that is still concentrated in the poorer areas. This matches quite well with the idea that environmental regulations and the costs of pollution abatement have more effect on industries that create more pollution and which are easier to move to new locations- the industries causing this sort of extreme pollution are concentrated in developing nations and are of types that are largely leaving developed nations. Inequality, local pollution issues, climate change, and the differences between environmental protection regulations in different locations seem to be highly interrelated, and when industry, developing nations, and villages where the locals have fewer personal resources combine, we get rivers turning white and demands from the local residents that the industry in question be shut down. Most likely, these demands will go unheeded, as corporations typically hold more sway than individuals.
Beginning of this book: http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/climate-injustice
FOOTLOOSE AND POLLUTION-FREE Josh Ederington, Arik Levinson, and Jenny Minier*