Official dereliction of duty has been blamed for a mass poisoning case triggered by a factory in Gansu Province that belched out 800 times the acceptable level of lead.
The deputy head of China's top environmental watchdog slammed the role of the local government and environment bureau, and called for harsh punishments.
In another case that came in for severe criticism, two factories in Hunan Province were found last week to have polluted a local river with arsenic, jeopardizing the drinking water safety of 80,000 people.
"The plants appeared to cause the pollution, but in fact the root of the problem lies in the local governments, and local protectionism," said Pan Yue, deputy director of the State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) yesterday.
"For their own interests some local environment departments even spearheaded the protectionism," Pan admitted.
He described the cases as "typical examples of pollution problems caused by a dereliction of duty of local governments and environment bureaux."
"Officials must be held accountable," Pan warned, advocating "harsh administrative punishments."
The factory at the centre of the lead poisoning scandal in Huixian County, Gansu Province, had been in operation for 10 years, but according to Pan it had never reached national emissions standards.
In 2003 alone, 201 tons of lead was released into the atmosphere by the plant, more than 800 times the national acceptable standard, Pan said.
But the damage it was inflicting on local people only became known by accident.
In April this year, a 5-year-old boy named Zhou Hao was electrocuted and had to undergo emergency treatment. Doctors were forced to amputate his arm, and while administering a blood transfusion they discovered abnormally high levels of lead in his blood.
In total 368 people have been poisoned, 258 people of them hospitalized including 250 children, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The number could rise as more people are undergoing blood tests, Xinhua reported.
"The illegal pollutant discharge lasted for more than 10 years. The local government and environment bureau definitely will not escape responsibility," Pan said.
The factory, Huixian Hongyu Nonferrous Smelting Company Ltd, has now been shut down.
As for the arsenic pollution in Hunan Province's Yueyang County, Pan said the event was definitely not an accident as the dirty discharge had been going on for a year.
"The local government and environmental bureau should be held responsible for a turning a blind eye for a whole year," he said.
(China Daily 09/15/2006 page2)