Authorities in regions bordering the Yangtze River in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi are once more faced with massive numbers of floating dead pigs, local authorities said on Wednesday.
Hundreds of pig carcasses, which swamped Shanghai's Huangpu River and appeared in the Yangtze near Yichang city last March, have now begun to appear on the Ganjiang to Nanchang section of China's longest river, local reports said.
"We had fished out a total of 131 dead pigs [from the river] as of Tuesday evening," the municipal government of Nanchang, Jiangxi's provincial capital, said in a statement on its official account on the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo.
"Tests by the health and environmental protection departments on samples taken from water processing plants showed that quality was nothing out of the ordinary," it said.
In March last year, Shanghai's water quality made world headlines after thousands of swollen and rotting dead pigs were found dumped in the city's Huangpu River, prompting many residents to turn to bottled water in spite of assurances by local officials that supplies were up to standard.
Jiangxi media reports quoted an employee of a water supply company as saying that the fast-running river had likely washed many of the carcasses past before they became entangled with water treatment plants.
An official who answered the phone at the agriculture and fisheries department of the Nanchang city government declined to comment on the reports, however.
"We can only give face-to-face interviews but we can't speak to you directly like this," the official said.
But he confirmed that clean-up operations were still under way to pick up more carcasses.
"We will be undertaking a full check [of the area]," he said.
Former photographer and Huaihe River activist Huo Daishan said the government's assurances weren't reliable, however.
"Maybe it'll be polluted tomorrow or the next day, even if it's not polluted today," Huo said.
"This will definitely pollute the water eventually."
Huo said the focus should be on the fact that the carcasses should never have ended up in the water in the first place.
"They were thrown in after the animals died, which is a reprehensible act in itself," Huo said. "The important thing is to ask why something like this ... has happened again."
He said he believes the cause lies in a lack of moral responsibility for environmental damage.
"This is extremely irresponsible behavior towards the environment and towards all the people who live downstream," Huo said.
"There should be an effective punishment for those responsible, once they are found; that is the government's duty," he said.
He blamed local government officials for failing to implement China's exemplary environmental protection laws and to educate the local population into greater environmental awareness.
"This is a moral issue and an issue with implementation," Huo said.
'Pork soup' jokes
Chinese netizens were quick to pile in with a slew of bad-taste jokes following last year's explosion of ridicule and satire around the dead pigs.
"So Nanchang residents get to eat pork soup for free," wrote one commentator, in a wisecrack that was repeated in various forms across China's tightly controlled Internet on Wednesday.
A Jiangxi-based student surnamed Zhang said local people are alarmed by reports, but feel there is little they can do.
"We all eat in the canteen, and the water used by the university canteen comes from the treatment plant," Zhang said. "We have no other option."
"How many more bizarre happenings will there be, ad infinitum," wrote another online commentator.
Another wrote: "Dead pigs again. This madness could only happen in the total absence of any sort of policy."
Chinese consumers are reeling in the wake of a string of public health scandals affecting foodstuffs and medicines in recent years, including melamine-tainted infant formula milk, used "gutter" cooking oil, and tainted vaccines.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.