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UPDATED: June 5, 2015
China Environment Communique Exposes Poor Air, Water Quality

One year after the world's second-largest economy "declared war" on pollution -- following decades of pursing growth at the expense of air, water and soil quality -- the battle is still being fought.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection on Thursday released its 2014 Environment Condition Communique, revealing serious air and groundwater pollution.

Only 16 of the 161 major Chinese cities subject to air quality monitoring met the national standard for clean air in 2014, statistics from the communique showed.

The other 145 cities, more than 90 percent of the total, failed to meet the new standard, which was implemented in 2013 and includes a PM2.5 index for monitoring airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Last year, authorities observed precipitation in 470 cities and detected acid rain in 29.8 percent of them, according to the communique.

Authorities also conducted groundwater quality tests at 4,896 monitoring points. Of these sites, only 10.8 percent had "excellent" water, while 61.5 percent were deemed "poor" or "extremely poor".

The communique also showed that 16 percent of China's soil was polluted.

Decades of rapid economic growth have taken their toll on the environment, and disturbingly lenient penalties -- until this year -- had little effect.

The new Environmental Law, which went into effect on January 1, 2015, brought with it much heavier punishments for violations, and promised to name and shame any enterprises found to have broken the law.

A daily fine system was also introduced, which punishes offenders and motivates companies to expedite the costly modifications needed to reduce pollutants. Should fined violators fail to rectify the problem, the fine increases without limit.

However, Vice Environment Minister Zhai Qing admitted that the fight was far from over.

The problem is so challenging that "reducing pollution by a few percentage points is not enough," he said.

Experts believe significant amelioration is only possible if China can cut pollution levels by 30 to 50 percent.

In addition, Zhai said, only a few key pollutants, such as chemical oxygen demand, are currently monitored. Other pollutants like volatile organic compounds are not included.

"We are fighting a protracted, uphill battle," Environment Minister Chen Jining said.

(Xinhua News Agency June 4, 2015)

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