Many builders in Jiangsu province will be slugged with a fine for dust emissions starting today, even as some of them said they have not been warned of the new penalties.
Under the pilot project in Nanjing and Xuzhou, firms will pay at least 0.24 yuan per sq-m each month for flying dust, such as suspended and inhalable particles, and sand stones, produced on their construction sites.
However, companies will be exempt from the charges if they meet certain criteria, such as installing dustsheets.
The project is designed to reduce air pollution that has "brought harm to both the environment and people's health", according to a joint announcement from the Jiangsu environmental protection bureau and the finance and price bureau.
Wang Tijian, professor from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Nanjing University, said flying dust is harmful to people's health because it contributes between 40 to 50 percent of the particle matters in the air, which, if inhaled, can cause respiratory diseases among humans.
"It is also likely that industrial pollutants will get mixed with the dust, or go through chemical reactions within, and then cause hazards to the human body," he said.
Construction companies interviewed by China Daily said they had not received any notice about the policy.
Chen Wei, general manager of a Nanjing-based construction company, said if implemented the charge would be a "big burden" on contractors like him, who had already been suffering from dwindling business amid the economic recession.
"If a 10,000 sq-m construction project lasts for 10 months, it means we'll have to pay 24,000 yuan. It's huge for me. And we actually don't have much profit to make in the construction sector as sub-contractors," he said.
"We have already taken measures to reduce our footprint on the environment under previous government requirements," he continued. "For example, we would clean the trucks' tires before they leave the construction site. Isn't that enough?"
Across China, Beijing charged a fee for dust emissions in 2006 in the lead-up to last year's Olympics. Shanghai is also considering asking companies to pay for dust emissions in its bid to hold a green World Expo next year.
In Jiangsu province, businesses will be charged on a sliding scale. Housing demolition projects, for example, will be charged the highest fee because of their relatively higher level of dust emissions.
Professor Wang said the policy was a welcome sign that air pollution problems have garnered increasing attention from the authorities. "It is a good way to encourage companies to reduce their dust emissions," he added.
"Particle matters are the primary air pollutants in 60-70 percent of Chinese cities I would encourage other cities to seriously address the problem."
Luo Taiquan, manager of another local construction company, raised his doubts on the feasibility of the policy.
"While the government's intention is good, I think it is rather difficult to implement because monitoring all construction sites will prove hard. What if they do it stealthily?
"Also, if some companies have very limited time for a project, they might choose to pay anyway instead of thinking of how to reduce pollution. So I don't think it would produce much impact upon the construction business," he said.