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UPDATED: June 3, 2013 NO. 23 JUNE 6, 2013
Rescuing Our Land
Intensified countermeasures needed as soil pollution contaminates staple crop
By Yin Pumin

MIRACLE PLANT: Scientists at a subtropical forestry research center under the Chinese Academy of Forestry inspect paulownia plantlets that can effectively absorb heavy metals in soil, in Xinyu, Jiangxi Province on June 14, 2012 (SONG ZHENPING)

These efforts have been widely expected to pave the way for the establishment of a national soil protection system and significantly improve the quality of the country's soil by 2020.

Voices heard

"Soil 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," said Li Fasheng, a researcher with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.

Li believes that a soil protection law is urgently needed. "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," he said.

The call has been heard by state leadership.

At the 2012 session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top advisory body, Zhou at Huazhong University of Science and Technology proposed to speed up the legislation on the prevention and control of soil pollution.

Wu Qing, Director of Foshan-based Gujinlai Law Office, also focused her attention on the legislation of soil pollution prevention at the NPC annual session in March. More than 30 lawmakers echoed her call, Wu said.

In response to growing public expectations, the first draft of China's Soil Protection Law has been completed, according to a report by Legal Daily on May 2.

Jointly formulated by eight different ministries including the MEP, MLR, MOA National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the legislation is meant to bring some form of management over the amount of toxins that are dumped into the soil, primarily farmland and urban industrial land where most of China's soil pollution is found.

According to the Legal Daily report, the MEP invited several NPC deputies and CPPCC National Committee members who are interested in the legislation process to a symposium at the end of April. During the symposium, officials introduced China's current soil situation and measures that will be taken for future protection.

In addition to facilitating soil protection efforts, people also pin high hopes on the new law to boost China's environmental transparency.

According to a 2006-10 MEP investigation, half of the arable farmland in south China had been totally ruined by toxic levels of heavy metal and organic pollutants, while 10 percent of farmland in the Yangtze River Delta region had lost production capability due to heavy metal pollution.

Despite this, the ministry refused to release all results of the investigation.

In January, Beijing lawyer Dong Zhengwei sent an application to the MEP asking the ministry to issue soil pollution data, as well as create detailed measures to handle the problem.

But the ministry said in February that the data are confidential and refused to release them. Dong was not satisfied and sent a second request.

The MEP issued its second response to Dong on May 5. It said that soil contamination is still being investigated and related data remain a state secret, adding that data will be released after further evaluation.

Ma Jun, Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said in an interview with Legal Daily that the public should have the right to be informed about the real situation as polluted soil may affect public health via food, crops and underground water.

Ma cited experience following the issuance of data on PM2.5, or airborne particles measuring 2.5 microns or less in diameter, as an example.

This year, real-time air-quality monitoring data detailing PM2.5 intensity in 74 major Chinese cities were made available to the public this year following complaints.

"The information must be in plain language, something made clear by the way the government handled the release of air-pollution information," Ma said.

Ma said that compared with air and water pollution, soil pollution is much more difficult to judge by the public, which is one reason why the government should publish the information to keep them informed.

"No matter what, a law on soil protection is urgently needed to make such obligations clear," said Hou from the MOA.

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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