Reducing soil pollution

Updated: 2012-11-02 08:03

(China Daily)

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The emphasis Wednesday's State Council meeting placed on soil pollution, overdue to some extent, highlights an often-neglected potential threat to the national food chain and people's health. The forcible measures it promised in response are a welcome attempt to address the problem.

The meeting, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, vowed to launch a national campaign to protect the nation's soil from pollution and accelerate efforts to establish a soil protection mechanism. It also vowed to accelerate the establishment of a nationwide network for soil quality investigation, monitoring and protection.

Such actions are essential, as greater efforts are needed to guarantee the quality of agricultural products and build a healthy living environment.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection submitted to the State Council a six-year national survey on China's soil conditions, the first of its kind, in which industrial, mining and farming activities were identified as the main culprits for soil pollution. Though more details of the survey results, such as to what extent the country's soil has been polluted and by what substances, are yet to be published, the picture unveiled is less than optimistic.

In a report delivered to the 23rd session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress in 2011, Zhou Shengxian, head of the environment watchdog, said about 10 million hectares, or 8.3 percent of China's arable land, had levels of heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, in excess of government limits, as a result of contaminated water and poisonous waste seeping into the soil.

Some experts have said that this probably underestimates the extent of the problem, as the development of some sectors, especially heavily polluting ones, has been so rapid in recent years.

Such a momentum will be difficult to check unless the new proposals are effectively implemented, as some local governments tend to look aside from the environmental cost of GDP-boosting projects while pursuing good-looking growth figures.

Now that a national plan to tighten soil pollution monitoring and prevention has been laid out, what the government should do next is to work out specific and practical soil standards and create a policy environment where they are faithfully maintained.

(China Daily 11/02/2012 page8)