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Linfen mayor summoned over pollution

By ZHENG JINRAN | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-20 07:45

Top officials in Linfen, Shanxi province, have been summoned by the country's top environmental authority due to their poor performance in controlling sulfur dioxide pollution, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection has suspended approving new projects in the city.

The ministry summoned the city's leaders, including Mayor Liu Yuqiang, on Thursday, while suspending the granting of environmental impact assessments for projects in the city as punishment for their poor performance in air pollution control.

Linfen has been put in the spotlight due to its frequent alarmingly high concentrations of sulfur dioxide, which have exceeded 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter four times since Jan 4, based on data from the China National Environmental Monitoring Center.

The national standard is 60 micrograms per cubic meter, with the World Health Organization stating that high levels of sulfur dioxide can harm the respiratory system.

The average concentrations of sulfur dioxide in Linfen in 2016 increased by 29.7 percent compared with 2015, the ministry said, adding that other major airborne pollutants, including PM2.5 and PM10, also soared last year.

Air pollution in the city has gradually worsened in the past two years, the ministry said. The city government failed to issue timely alerts for severe sulfur dioxide pollution, and did not take effective measures to reduce the pollution or implement controls in coal-fired boilers and plants as required, it added.

The ministry named and shamed some companies for excessive emissions of pollutants or failing to cease operating equipment to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, which is considered a major reason for the severe pollution in recent days.

For example, Ruide Coking Co in Linfen has discharged excessive levels of sulfur dioxide, and emissions of a highly toxic gas emitted by the plant were 97 times higher than national standards.

The mayor said he is deeply sorry for the severe air pollution and lack of controls implemented by the government, promising to take stricter action to reduce emissions.

All exposed polluters will face daily fines, which have no upper limit, and the city is required to submit a comprehensive improvement plan within 20 days.

In 2015, 96.7 percent of 338 monitored cities saw sulfur dioxide emissions meet national standards, with an average concentration level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter, according to ministry data.

Shanxi is home to many cities that failed to meet national standards. In addition to Linfen, cities such as Jinzhong and Taiyuan have also seen severe sulfur dioxide pollution.

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