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UPDATED: February 20, 2012 NO. 8 FEBRUARY 23, 2012
Heavy Metal Danger
Some regions in China are falling victim to toxic metals
By Yin Pumin

"China has enacted laws against air and water pollution, but still lacks a policy framework and applicable laws to fight the contamination of the soil," said Li Fasheng, a researcher with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.

"Land pollution, if not brought under control, will become irreversible in a couple of years, posing serious threats to food safety, human health and social stability," he warned.

Tighter measures

In April 2011, China issued its first five-year plan for heavy metal pollution prevention and control. It pledges efforts to cut the emission of lead, mercury, chromium, cadmium and arsenic in key regions to 15 percent of the levels recorded in 2007 by 2015.

The plan mainly targets 14 provinces and autonomous regions vulnerable to heavy metal contamination. In these areas, regulatory efforts will focus on 138 communities and 4,452 enterprises, including mines, smelters and battery manufacturers.

Minister Zhou estimated a total of 75 billion yuan ($11.90 billion) would be needed to address pollution over the five-year period.

In order to increase action by local governments against heavy metal pollution, Zhou urged the establishment of an accountability system, stipulating that officials should be accountable for pollution incidents in their regions.

In a separate move, the MEP launched a nationwide campaign to bring listed companies that discharge heavy metal pollutants under tighter scrutiny in June last year. A total of 80 companies listed on Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges were mandated to have their pollution treatment facilities and procedures evaluated.

In August 2011, the MEP took an unprecedented step to release detailed pollution information on more than 1,900 lead-acid battery facilities across the country. It was the first time information on an entire industry's environmental performance was made public.

Reactions to the initiative were overwhelmingly positive. Close scrutiny of the data by the media, environmental NGOs and the public resulted in corrections, which helped the ministry to better supervise the listed facilities. Updated data were released to the public in November.

Ma with the IPEA believes better access to information and government transparency are key to tackling heavy metal pollution and supervising polluters.

"We need to promote government information disclosure and public participation so that local protectionism and wrongdoing can be exposed," said Ma.

In January, the IPEA published a status report on the handling of information disclosure by 113 cities. The report graded cities on their transparency and found that the cities averaged slightly more than 40 points on a scale of 100. That's an improvement over the 31-point average three years ago.

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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