China’s environment at breaking point, warns minister

7 July, 2007:

China’s environment is on the verge of collapse and the situation is threatening the lives of people, one of the country’s top ministers has warned.

Pan Yue, outspoken vice-minister at the State Environmental Protection Administration, said campaigns to clean-up the environment were going backwards because the country’s primary focus continued to be on economic growth.

Pursuit of short-term goals, Pan Yue alleged, is leading to ever-increasing pollution despite having taken various measures, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

His comments come as dumped industrial waste forced drinking water to be cut off for 200,000 residents in Shuyang eastern China’s Jiangsu province.

Health officials were alerted when an unusual smell started coming from water in the Xinyi River, China’s key source of water for the county’s residential use. Tests showed that the water contained levels of ammonia nitrogen nearly three times above national standard.

The main water supply was cut off for 40 hours starting July 2, 2007, while health officials scrambled to deal with chemical contamination in a nearby river.

The flow in Shuyang was restored on July 4, 2007. It was found that a factory had been dumping hazardous levels of ammonia and other chemicals into a river, forcing the suspension of water supplies to residents in Shuyang county.

Earlier, an outbreak of blue-green algae had forced disruption of water services to millions of people in another city. Massive algae growths had choked
Taihu Lake and Chaohu Lake in east China and Dianchi Lake in south-west China in May and June 2007, endangering supply of tapped water.

Over 70% of China’s waterways and 90% of its underground water are contaminated by pollution, according to previous government reports.

Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, told a national meeting on environmental issues the other day that
China’s environment is facing extremely difficult conditions. The growth of industries that consume large amounts of energy and discharge high levels of
pollution outpaced the rise in the general economy in the first five months of the year, Zhou said.

Anger among people who refuse to accept an ever-deteriorating environment has resulted in a rising number of “mass incidents,” Zhou Shengxian said, without giving details.

An executive meeting of the State Council, presided over by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, has proposed to amend the existing law on handling of water pollution, allowing for harsher punishment for illegal practices.




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