Are high speed trains resulting in a boom in poops at railway stations in China? It sounds bizarre and sheer absurd and may shock those who do not tire of singing paeans of China,
particularly its technological advancement.
However, according to Railway Standard Design, a prestigious journal of the China State Railway Group Corp, human waste at railway stations is hundreds or even thousands of times higher than what is typically found elsewhere in urban sewage systems in China. “The processing capabilities of waste treatment facilities are declining, some of them already out of service,” a team of researchers commissioned by the China State Railway Group Corp was quoted by the journal, Railway Standard Design as saying.
The journal in its publication on May 24 said that waste water at the toilet system on the Chinese high-speed trains are having a higher content of suspended solids, organic matter, nitrogen and phosphorus than general domestic waste water.
As such, the existing sewage treatment facilities can no longer meet the current urban network discharge standards. It has called for an urgent need to establish more modern and complete human waste treatment facilities at railway stations in China.
By the end of 2022, China had 155,000 km of railways in operation, including 42,000 km of high-speed lines. In 2023, more than 3000-km of new railway lines will be put into operation, including 2,500 km of high-speed railways. It is the most popular mode of transport for travel in the country. For example, the 1,300 km rail line between Beijing and Shanghai alone transports more than 200 million passengers per year, according to official data from the China State Railway Group Corp.
In 2022, more than 1.61 billion passengers travelled via train in China. It is expected that
2.69 billion people will use trains to travel in 2023, the China State Railway Group Corp said in a statement in January this year. In view of this, the amount of human waste to be produced by passengers in trains per day in China can be imaginable.
Quoting a study, the South China Morning Post said that on an average, a person produces around 128 gram of poop and 1 litre of urine per day. Even though not all passengers use toilets in trains, the total amount of human excreta produced on a highspeed train that operates almost non-stop throughout the day could be significant. Toilets on high-speed trains in China usually remain clean, spacious and are equipped with amenities like electric-powered doors. Since millions of passengers travel by trains every day in China, collection tanks on trains remain full, the journal said.
Shedding more light on China’s human waste management in train coaches and railway stations, the journal said after human excreta is collected in tanks, they are pumped out by machine to be processed at a waste treatment facility, usually located in a railway station. But designs of these waste treatment facilities at the railway stations are so old and unwieldy that they are not able to treat huge amounts of human waste emptied daily out of high-speed train coaches.
“Waste treatment facilities at railway stations in China are usually a concrete building
with many machines inside. These machines are complex, unstable, and easily broken
down under the extreme demands of a high-speed rail line,” the journal said.
What is alarming is that human waste from trains can cause problems if it spills over into the urban sewage system. Presence of high levels of organic matter and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in excreta cause eutrophication if they find their way into bodies
of water, leading to excessive growth of algae that can deplete oxygen levels in the water and harm aquatic life.
More than this, as per a WHO study, if human excreta disposal and its treatment are not handled well, presence of pathogens in excreta can enter the environment and once pathogens enter the environment, they can be transmitted into human body via mouth, through drinking water or eating vegetables, food and can be a cause of diarrhoea.
According to The Lancet, China ranks among the top 15 countries on the number of diarrheal illnesses. In China, the infectious diarrhoea cases account for nearly 20% of those of 45 notifiable infectious diseases during the last 10 years, the UK-based weekly peer-reviewed medical journal said. Besides diarrhoea, untreated human waste can be a cause of diseases like hepatitis, occupational asthma and allergic alveolitis. Despite this, China does not possess quality human waste treatment facilities at its railway stations. Installation of new treatment facilities that can be operated independently by Artificial Intelligence will cost billions of US dollars. Facing economic slowdown, can China allow installation of modern and efficient human waste treatment plants at its railway stations is a major question.