Restless citizens force China’s hand on pollution control
The chickens from China’s decades-long custom of turning a blind eye to the damage inflicted on its environment in return for developing an economic powerhouse are finally coming home to roost as an increasingly-agitated populace demands action from its leaders.
With suffocating smog in Beijing and other major cities still making headlines around the world, renewed focus is now being turned on China’s deplorable fresh water conditions as the government scrambles to show it is in control by issuing reams of new standards on industrial pollution and promising to punish violators.
Just last week a factory in suburban Shanghai, which makes cases for Apple products, was the focus of media outrage after it was found to have poured fluid and oily waste water into drains which then flowed into the nearby Tielu River. Authorities say the company, Riteng Computer Accessory, will face the "harshest penalty" although not elaborating on what that actually means.
For its part Riteng denies the pollutants were discharged deliberately, saying that they had "accidentally" got into the drains when workers were cleaning the factory floors. This is despite the fact that residents have been complaining about the so-called the “stinky river of milk,” thus named because of its color, for well over a year.
Cancer villages admission
In a rare display of candor, China, which has seen a string of chemical pollution accidents, leading to polluted drinking water and higher rates of cancer in some areas, surprised many watchers last week when the Ministry of Environmental Protection admitted for the first time the existence of "cancer villages" due to the production of certain harmful chemicals banned in developed countries.
In rolling out a new 5-year-plan to control industrial pollution, the ministry said it will finish enacting and revising 600 types of environmental standards and officially release 300 more by 2015. The standards will cater to the specific characteristics of the country's pollution and will also be brought in line with international levels gradually.
They will cover mainly five aspects: water, air, soil, ecosystems, and sound and vibration, placing an emphasis on reducing the total amount of pollution, and prevention and control of heavy metals pollution and persistent organic pollutants.
The ministry cited inadequate pollution risk control by enterprises, a lack of systematic policies to restrain the making and use of highly toxic and dangerous chemicals and authorities' insufficient pollution monitoring and supervision capabilities.
This comes following scathing public criticism for poor pollution control measures as industrial waste, hazardous smog and other environmental and health consequences of years of rapid growth has made life unbearable for China’s billions.
Certain harmful chemicals banned in developed countries are still used or produced in China, where toxic pollution is severe in certain areas and making some villages highly prone to cancer, the statement said.
"Poisonous and harmful chemical materials have brought about many water and atmosphere emergencies... certain places are even seeing 'cancer villages',” it read.
Bet you life
According to the state-run Global Times, the moves come after a Chinese entrepreneur offered pollution control authority chief Zhejiang a USD33,000 reward to swim in a local polluted river for 20 minutes.
Under the new plan, 58 types of chemicals that needed strict supervision for their production, use and discharge were listed and key industries. The plan also promises to target key industries including, petroleum, coking and nuclear fuel processing and the manufacturing of chemical ingredients and products, pharmaceuticals and chemical fibers, smelting and pressing of non-ferrous metal, textile and coal chemical.