Chemical checks to reduce toxic threat

Updated: 2011-09-16 08:00

By Li Jing (China Daily)

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Pledge to target manufacturers, as govt puts block on expansion plans

BEIJING - A nationwide safety campaign is to target all enterprises involved in the production and use of hazardous chemicals, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection Zhang Lijun announced on Thursday.

The move is part of a series of measures aimed at tackling the growing risks of toxic waste caused by China's rapid industrialization.

"Culprits causing severe pollution will be severely punished," Zhang said during a news conference. "Authorities in charge of supervision will also be held responsible."

The government has also banned the building or expansion of chemical plants outside industrial parks to reduce unchecked discharge, he said, while all chemical manufacturers now need to register by the end of 2013, following international practice on the management of dangerous chemicals.

"Environmental accidents involving toxic chemicals are on the rise, posing a grave threat to public safety and social stability," said Zhang.

Since January last year, the ministry has dealt with 239 environmental emergencies caused by chemical spills, some of which threatened water safety, he said.

A 2010 survey of 43,510 enterprises in the petrochemicals, chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries found that 86.2 percent were located in basins of China's major rivers.

"The plants are concentrated along rivers, some in densely populated areas or even in the upper reaches of drinking water sources," Zhang said.

With more than 20,000 petrochemicals plants, the country is a leading global producer of more than 100 varieties of chemicals, said Wei Fusheng, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

"However, in China toxic chemicals are not monitored on a daily basis. When emergencies happen, authorities and the public are often put under extreme pressure," he added.

Fujia chemical plant in Dalian, Liaoning province, was ordered by the city authority to relocate in August after more than 10,000 residents took to the streets over concerns of potential toxic leaks.

Panic was earlier raised when huge waves breached dikes around the facility, which produces PX, a chemical that is believed to be harmful to humans.

Small-scale chemical plants using outdated technology are also damaging the environment because they usually discharge pollution without proper treatment.

"Some are moving to the hinterlands after they were banned from eastern coastal areas, and they are taking the pollution with them," Wei said.

China Daily

(China Daily 09/16/2011 page4)