The first nationwide survey of sources of industrial, agricultural and residential pollution has been launched, it was announced on Friday.
After one year of preparation, initial work on the environmental census started on Tuesday and the program will begin in earnest next month, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) said.
The survey will also calculate the number of pollution treatment facilities in operation, said Zhou Shengxian, minister of SEPA, during a meeting held by the State Council.
Data collection will be completed in the first half of the year, and the data will be analyzed in the second half. The survey's findings will be examined and approved in the first half of next year.
The central government has allocated 737 million yuan ($101 million) for the survey, which will cover 333 cities and 2,895 counties.
The headquarters of the census has been established, comprised of officials from SEPA and the Ministry of Agriculture, which manages agricultural pollution.
Every province, autonomous region and municipality has also established an office to deal with the census.
"The results of the census will not be linked to any punishment or evaluation of the performance of local administrations," Zhou said. No administration, company or institution should fear repercussions, but should instead guarantee true, credible results, he added.
The results will serve as reference for the central government to map out plans on environmental protection, according to Zhu Jianping, deputy director of the First Nationwide Pollution-Source Census Work Office.
Zhu also said such pollution-source censuses will be conducted every 10 years.
He said that industrial pollution sources will be a focus of the survey. There are 1.5 million pollution sources in industrial production, but he estimated the actual number should be 1.8 million.
Polluting industries that emit heavy metals, hazardous waste and radioactive waste will be monitored most closely. Other industries including papermaking, petrochemicals, iron and steel are also key targets of the review.
As for agriculture, aquaculture, plant growing, and livestock and poultry farming will be targeted.
China faces the challenge of environmental deterioration resulting from its rapid economic development. According to SEPA, sulfur dioxide emissions in 2005 were 27.8 percent higher than in 2000.
During that same period, chemical oxygen demand (COD), a major index of water pollution, fell only 2.1 percent.
Water pollution has also been worsening: 26 percent of surface water is totally unusable, 62 percent is unsuitable for fish and 90 percent of the rivers running through cities are polluted.