Ministry responds to public concerns about pollution

Updated: 2013-05-09 02:53

By Wu Wencong (China Daily)

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On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Ministry revealed how the government has handled 13 cases of pollution in the first three months of 2013.

Ministry responds to public concerns about pollution

Students of Shandong Jianzhu University remind people of environmental protection by wearing masks and holding billboards on Sunday in Jinan, capital of Shandong province. Zheng Tao / For China Daily

This is the first time the ministry has released information in this manner about a group of pollution incidents. But such information will be released on a quarterly basis in the future, said an official from the ministry who asked not to be named. "We are taking this measure to respond to the public's concerns. We hope it will make public supervision more convenient and push enterprises to rectify problems and improve their operations as quickly as possible," said the official.

Many high-profile pollution incidents, which triggered nationwide outrage, are among the 13 cases the ministry has revealed its response to.

The most recent major pollution scandal to provoke a public outcry was in March, when Deng Lianjun, then-head of the local environmental protection department, responded to residents concerns over a polluted river in Cangxian county, Hebei province, by saying just because it had turned red that didn't mean the water was unsafe to drink, because "after boiling with red beans the water has that color, too".

The river was later found to contain levels of aniline that were 73 times higher than the national standard.

The announcement said Deng had been removed from his post, and the local environmental protection department is testing water and soil samples from a nearby chemical factory that was believed to have caused the pollution.

"The ministry's statement is a leap forward in official environmental information disclosure," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, an environmental NGO that aims to promote environmental information disclosure in China.

Ma said he was especially happy to see that the ministry has responded not only to issues disclosed by traditional media, but also to hot issues generated from online posts and discussions.

One of them was an allegation that first appeared in February on Sina Weibo, claiming that factories in Weifang, Shandong province, had polluted the local water supply by pumping wastewater 1,000 meters underground.

The ministry's statement said an investigation led by the local government found no solid evidence that this had happened, but it found that many small paint factories have been operating without wastewater treatment facilities.

The statement said the local environmental protection department plans a further investigation into the illegal dumping of wastewater, and will accelerate the construction of sewage discharge pipelines in the region.

Ma said although the ministry's statement was welcome it was a bit too simple, briefly summarizing the response to the 13 cases, and he hoped in the future the investigation process, the problems discovered and how they would be addressed, would be disclosed in more detail.

In another case, companies in an industrial park located in the Tengger desert in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, have been dumping their wastewater directly into the desert without treatment.

Production was halted completely in the industrial park after the situation was exposed in March, and it will not be resumed until all enterprises are equipped with a sewage discharge system.