Lifelong responsibility mechanism to force officials to address pollution

 

Photo taken on Monday of May 6, 2013 shows the smog-shrouded Beijing West Railway

Station in Beijing. Air pollution monitors in Beijing showed that the density of PM2.5

in some areas hit 400 micrograms per cubic meter early on May 6, well above national

and international standards.    Photo by Gong Lei

 

By Lv Qiuping,Zhang Zhanpeng,Liu Bin and Hu Jinwu

Lin Chun-sheng never considered leaving Beijing until heavy smog shrouded the city earlier this year.

Lin, who graduated from a university of Chinese medicine in Beijing seven years ago, hoped to pursue his dream of becoming a professional doctor in the city. But the air pollution has made him reconsider.

“Smog is the only reason that I’m planning to leave Beijing,” he said.

On May 24, President Xi Jinping called for comprehensive counter-pollution efforts. Speaking during an ecological construction study session with members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, he called for establishing a lifelong responsibility mechanism targeting those who conduct irresponsible decision-making that leads to severe environmental consequences.

Lin said Xi’s speech touched on a key component in the fight against pollution, as only a lifelong mechanism can force government officials, who may escape punishment after ending their tenure under the current management system, to address pressing pollution issues.

Chinese officials are often criticized by the public for ignoring environmental pollution in favor of boosting local economies. Environmental problems are often revealed years after they complete their tenures, leaving the problem in the hands of their successors.

Pollution is a serious problem in China. A report released in March indicated that as much as 72 of China’s biggest rivers have been contaminated with as much as 46,000 tonnes of heavy metals, including zinc, copper, lead and cadmium.

Last month, rice produced in central China’s Hunan Province was found to contain excessive levels of cadmium, which was largely believed to be caused by water and soil pollution.

To curb pollution, south China’s Guangdong Province has adopted an environmental protection assessment for government officials. The provincial departments of supervision and environmental protection jointly announced on May 9 that the supervisory department will question and criticize mayors who fail to curb pollution.

A lifelong responsibility mechanism will not only help fight pollution in relatively developed eastern areas, but also prevent polluted industries from moving to less developed western areas.

Zhong Kaibin, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said government officials in west China are now more likely to approve major development projects while neglecting their environmental impact.

In Kunming, capital of southwest China’s Yunnan Province, hundreds of residents protested in May over plans to build an oil refinery near the city. Although government officials said the project passed feasibility studies and was approved by the country’s top economic planner, residents still asked for the plant be relocated.

A mechanism to hold officials responsible for environmental damage for their lifetimes will prevent west China governments from favoring development over environmental protection, Zhong said.

Gao Wenxue, deputy chief of the environmental protection bureau of the city of Huai’an in east China’s Jiangsu Province, said officials should bear a sense of shame if pollution is not properly addressed.

“We should feel ashamed if children cannot see stars in the sky at night or enjoy fresh air,” he said.

 

File photo taken on February 28, 2013 shows a citizen wearing mask walks on a road

amid heavy fog in Beijing.    Photo by Luo Xiaoguang

 

 

Industrial, energy mix

key smog causes: minister

 

By Tian Ying

China’s Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian has cited industrial restructuring and adjusting the country’s energy mix as key to addressing air pollution.

Zhou made the remarks on Tuesday of June 4 in an exclusive interview with Xinhua, ahead of World Environment Day, which falls on June 5.

He acknowledged that China’s atmospheric environment faces grave challenges. Pollution from coal burning has not yet been tamed; regional air pollution by PM 2.5, tiny pollutant particles, has increasingly become an outstanding problem, and air quality in many cities has worsened precipitously.

The resource and environmental conflicts that developed nations have encountered for a century have surfaced in China overnight, Zhou said.

He pointed out that China’s industrial pattern characterized by high energy consumption and pollution yet low efficiency and output has not yet been altered, and the industrial mix skews toward heavy industry.

“We must look to economic restructuring to solve air pollution,” the environment minister said.

Meanwhile, efforts should be made to shift the energy mix, including capping total consumption of coal, developing clean energy and clean uses of coal.

For instance, he said, efforts should be made to phase out small coal-burning furnaces, retrofitting desulfurization and denitration facilities, and managing cook-generated smoke.

“Automobiles have also become big sources of air pollution, and they contribute 20 to 25 percent of PM 2.5 in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai,” according to Zhou.

He suggested regulating the number of cars in big cities, replacing heavily polluting cars and lowering sulfur contents in gasoline.

 

 

China reports drops 

in emissions

of major pollutants

 

By Zhang Yunlong

China reported drops in emissions of major pollutants last year, according to a government report issued on Tuesday of June 4.

Summarizing China’s environmental conditions in 2012, the report says emissions of chemical oxygen demand, a measure of organic pollutants in water, totalled 24.237 million tonnes last year, down 3.05 percent year on year.

Emissions of sulfur dioxide, another major pollutant, in 2012 dropped 4.52 percent from the previous year to 21.176 million tonnes, according to the report launched by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Moreover, the report says China reported ammonia nitrogen emissions totalling 2.536 million tonnes and nitrogen oxide emissions totalling 23.378 million tonnes, registering year-on-year decreases of 2.62 percent and 2.77 percent, respectively.

Monitoring results indicate that China’s overall environmental conditions in 2012 remained roughly stable, but still grave, according to ministry officials.

 

 

China’s water quality

“not optimistic”: report 

 

By Zhang Yunlong and Luo Sha

A government report issued on Tuesday of June 4 said China’s current water quality is “not optimistic.”

The Yellow, Songhua, Liaohe and Huaihe rivers are all slightly polluted, according to a report issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The report said that 25 percent of the 60 lakes and reservoirs monitored by the ministry have excessive amounts of algae.

The quality of coastal waters in the Yellow and South China seas is good, while that of the Bohai and East China seas is poor, the report said.

The report said seven of the country’s nine most important bays have bad water quality, particularly Bohai and Hangzhou bays and the Yangtze River and Pearl River estuaries.

 

 

China confronting

environmental

ticking time bomb

 

By Han Qiao, Ye Jian and Wang Heng

Wang Sannyu knows all about the ticking time-bomb nature of environmental issues, with her home in north China’s Shanxi Province collapsing due to phenomena caused by a nearby coal ash dump.

Under the glare of World Environment Day on June 5, China is facing up to how situations like this can result from long-term environmental degradation. Wang’s and other similar horror stories show that the impact of polluting behavior can often go unfelt for long periods, but the chickens will come home to roost eventually.

Wang’s house is the latest to be built in her village, although it has been there for seven years.

“Houses are collapsing. No villagers want to build new ones,” says the 46-year-old while standing beside her home, with the roof of one room already caving in and cracks visible on the walls of other rooms.

“It is all because of the coal ash dam,” she says. “The water spill from the dam has flooded our cellars and damaged the foundations of houses in the village.”

Wang is referring to a controversial dam 500 meters away from her house. Covering 1.2 square km and known as the biggest coal ash dump in Asia, it is located on the outskirts of Shuozhou City in Shanxi, China’s biggest coal production base.

Coal ash slurry containing mercury, lead and cadmium from local power plants has been stored here for three decades, and a dam was built around it. In some parts of the dam, the slurry has turned into dry ash dust. Even with a slight wind, ash chokes the sky.

“On windy days in winter, villagers talking face to face on the streets can not see each other,” according to Wang.

This is one example of the environmental toll Chinese people are now beginning to face after three decades of fast development and lack of environmental awareness nationwide.

“The dam was there when I got married and moved to Shuimotou Village 23 years ago, but it did not affect our life until the past five to six years,” explains Wang.

Ma Zhong, director of Renmin University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, says the problem with the ash dam in Shuozhou is typical in China. The pollution source may be there for many years before it rears its ugly head as a problem.

“The environment is resilient. The problem will not surface straight away,” notes Ma.

But there has been marked deterioration in China’s air, water and land quality lately. At the beginning of 2012, heavy smog blanketed more than 1 million square km of the country, affecting hundreds of millions of residents.

A land and resources ministry report showed that about 55 percent of the underground water supplies in Chinese cities were of “poor” or “extremely poor” quality in 2011.

And the recent food scandal involving cadmium-tainted rice in southern China highlighted worsening soil conditions.

Zhao Xiaoning, director of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Datong City in Shanxi Province, argues that local governments have environmental awareness, but it is difficult to act. “Some highly polluting sectors like coal and power are pillar industries in Shanxi, creating jobs and generating revenues,” he points out.

Zhao says his bureau is promoting a program to reduce discharges of nitrogen oxide by coal-fired power plants: “We support economic development, and meanwhile, we reduce emissions.”

Through technology upgrades, nitrogen oxide discharge will be reduced from 500 mg for every cubic meter of gas emission to 100 mg, matching a new national standard for thermal power companies.

“It is part of a bigger effort initiated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection to reduce sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxides in industrial companies,” says Zhao. “We are finished with the sulfur dioxides cut and working on the second step.”

In Shuozhou, the local government is building an industrial zone to house companies who can recycle coal ash.

Rich in silicon, coal ash here looks greyer and can be used to produce a kind of brick. According to the local government, nine plants with a total processing capacity of five million tons of coal ash each year have decided to move in.

But challenges remain ahead. It will take at least two decades to consume all the existing coal ash, and new ash is added to the dam each year, pressuring the local government to explore more ways to consume it.

For Wang Sannyu, what she wants at this moment is to relocate. She expects the local government to allocate a new piece of land for Shuimotou villagers and local power plants to compensate them.

“Our village is too close to the toxic source. It is not suitable for living,” she says.

 

 

NEW LINK   posted on June 8 

 

Former journalist draws

pollution map of China

 

By Wang Xuetao and Liang Saiyu

Ma Jun and his group for environmental protection have compiled an open-source online database of water, air and hazardous waste pollution records dating back seven years in order to encourage more public participation, and with it, change.

The database includes information from 31 provincial-level regions, with over 90,000 records from enterprises that have violated environmental protection laws.

“Public participation is of great importance in protecting our environment,” said Ma, a former journalist, author and founder of the non-profit Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE).

Ma founded IPE in 2006, the same year that he started working on the database.

China’s environmental problems have largely been blamed on local governments, which often pursue economic development at the cost of environmental damage. Poor enforcement of environmental protection laws has also been an obstacle.

Ma said extensive public participation will help turn the tide, especially when it comes to helping international companies police their suppliers.

Ma kicked off a related campaign in 2007, calling on major international companies to work with their suppliers to improve their practices.

Fifty major enterprises that rely on Chinese manufacturers joined the campaign, identifying suppliers that were violating environmental regulations and working with them to make positive changes, Ma said.

“But it has proven to be a difficult task to push particularly large corporations to confront the problems created by their Chinese suppliers,” Ma said, citing Apple as an example of such a company.

Ma said Apple at first refused to even confirm that it had any relationship with factories that had been blamed for polluting the environment. But one-and-a-half years later, the company changed its mind and started auditing its suppliers.

Ma’s efforts, as well as those of his group, earned him a nomination as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2006 by Time magazine. In 2012, he received the Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the world’s biggest awards for local environmental activists.

“We can only have an impact on a fraction of firms in the database,” Ma said, adding that the overall situation is still severe and some areas are experiencing degrading environmental conditions.

Ma said the improvement of the public’s awareness of environmental protection and the expansion of government transparency will help create a cleaner China.

“An early step is always helpful,” Ma said. 

 

 

NEW LINK   posted on June 9 

 

Water pollution challenges

China’s green push

 

By Liu Xinyong, Wu Zhonghao, Shi Weiyan, Zhou Mian and Shen Yang

 

The water in a three-meter well in Zou Zhengmei’s courtyard looks perfectly clean. But when cooking and drinking, she always gets water from a well 50 meters away.

The 62-year-old lives in a mountainous village called Tieshan, which means “iron mountain,” in the city of Xinyu of east China’s Jiangxi Province.

More than a decade ago, life changed when two lead and zinc mines and a gold mine opened two kilometers away. Poisonous chemicals from the mines would spell disaster for the village. The three mines were located in the mountains.

“At that time, the stream flowing down the mountains was yellow. Cattle would not drink the water from the stream and even fish would not swim up there,” Zou said.

Villages gradually found their drinking water was also polluted.

Zou stopped using the well in her yard.

Similar cases of water pollution are not hard to find in China, posing health hazards for people and stark challenges for the country’s drive to build a beautiful country.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said this week in a report that quality of the country’s water sources is far from optimistic.

The quality of underground water was ranked “Poor” or “Relatively Poor” in 57.3 percent of the 4,929 monitoring points in 198 cities around the country, the report said.

According to the country’s underground water standards, water of relatively poor quality can only be used for drinking after proper treatment. Water of poor quality cannot be drunk.

The report also showed that the resource in about 30 percent of water monitoring points in major rivers was of poor quality, according to the country’s surface water standards.

In Tieshan, pollution from mines not only damaged farmland but also impacted people’s health.

Zhang Xiaofeng, a 29-year-old villager who has now moved to the city, said no one in the village has been chosen to become a soldier in recent years, mainly due to health concerns.

“There was usually something wrong with the liver,” Zhang said.

The city of Xinyu realized the seriousness of the environmental pollution as early as in 2008 and began to take drastic measures in a bid to pursue a “green path for growth.”

The local government has shut down 247 enterprises, including those in Tieshan village since 2008 and started restoring the environment. It began planting trees and built water processing facilities.

After more than 30 years of growth since 1978, China has become the second largest economy in the world. However, environmental pollution remains a chronic problem.

To solve the problem, the government has been resolute.

At the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held in November, it was made clear that the country would give high priority to making ecological progress and incorporating it into the process of advancing economic, political, cultural and social advancement.

At a at a study session of the Political Bureau of CPC Central Committee last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that the country will not sacrifice the environment for temporary economic growth, calling for all-round efforts to conserve resources and curb pollution.

“We should be fully aware of the urgency and difficulty of protecting the environment and reducing pollution as well as the significance and necessity of improving the environment,” Xi said.

Yang Guohua, an official with the department of environmental protection of Jiangxi Province, said some local governments consider more about GDP (gross domestic product) in attracting investment than the impact on the environment.

To solve these environmental problems, the country must ensure that local governments act in line with the central government’s policies, Yang said.

 

 

 NEW LINK   posted on June 9 

 

Bag filters provide

cleaner air

at industrial plants

 

By Han Qiao, Ye Jian and Wang Heng

 

Ma Liang was trawling the Internet looking for a bag filter that could be used at the steel plant he works at.

Amid public calls for cleaner air, the Taiyuan Iron and Steel Group Co., Ltd. in northern China’s Shanxi Province, which burns coal and coke for energy, is stepping up efforts to reduce particulate discharge.

“I am looking for a filter made of thinner fiber that can reduce particulate emission by half,” said Ma, who is head of the pollution control division of the firm.

The company is not alone.

Coal-burning factories, like steel plants, thermal power companies and central heating providers are looking to use bag filters to reduce dust, at a time when air quality has become a big complaint among Chinese citizens.

The bag filters, which come in different sizes and can used in apartments or big factories, allows air to go through it and is cleaned as the filter catches dust.

When carrying out market research, Ma found bag filters, made of a new kind of material, which sell roughly the same as the old ones. “The material also allows better air permeability, so we do not have to change fans,” Ma said.

“So the overall cost will not increase,” he said, adding that price is an important factor when it comes to environmental protection as the Chinese steel industry is generally suffering from over-supply and weak demand.

Air quality is a big challenge in China. Heavy smog affected 800 million people at the beginning of the year. In summer, humid weather makes dust and smoke in the air difficult to disperse.

Automobile exhausts, industrial emissions, coal-fired heating, as well as dust from construction sites are to blame for the country’s smog, according to a number of experts, including Wang Yuesi, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Drivers have been discouraged in using automobiles but it is difficult as many do not want to sacrifice convenience and the air quality will not be improved if just a few Chinese people do so.

Dust from construction sites will not decrease either given that the country is at a stage of fast urbanization, accompanied by building new apartment blocks, subways and other large projects.

China is making more efforts in cutting emission from factories through launching tougher industrial standards throughout the year. Plants now use both bag filters and electrostatic precipitators to reduce particulate discharge. Bag filters are encouraged in the new standards for better performance.

Industry figures showed that 90 percent of thermal power units with generating capacity of 800 million kw or higher in China are installed with electrostatic precipitators, according to a report of Minsheng Securities.

If all these units were added with bag filters, it would cost about 50 yuan (8.15 U.S. dollars) for upgrading each kilowatt of generating capacity. That translates into a potential market of 36 billion yuan, said the report.

Located within the city of Taiyuan and close to densely-populated areas, Taiyuan Iron and Steel Group is taking the lead in using bag filters to reduce dust.

Ma said once the new bag filters are in place, the company will cut particulate emission from 20 mg for every cubic meter to 10 mg.

More companies in the country are installing bag filters.

In Xilian Heating Company in northwest China’s Xi’an City, iron boxes with bag filters inside are installed on coal-fired boilers.

The old filtering facility on the boiler can reduce particulate emission to 80 mg for every cubic meter. With the new box, emission can be cut down to 30 mg, according to the company.

The Xi’an Environmental Protection Bureau is encouraging technological upgrade at local heating companies and expects more bag filters to be installed before winter.

 

 

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