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China strengthens air pollution control
Updated: 2013-06-17

Ma Yongxin finished harvesting his wheat on Wednesday in much the same way as he has for the last thirty years. But this year, he is using processors to turn the crop stalks in his field into fertilizer instead of burning them.

'Although I paid more, I feel it is worthwhile. The disintegrated straw can fertilize the soil without creating air pollution,' said Ma, a farmer from east China's Anhui province.

Authorities in the provincial capital of Hefei started using unmanned aerial vehicles and police helicopters this year to monitor wheat harvesting efforts. Farmers who are spotted burning crops will be fined and asked to attend classes on environmental protection.

The measure comes one year after environmental protection authorities blamed straw burning for the heavy pollution that hit most parts of central and east China. Governments at all levels are now working on effective measures to control air pollution.

A Monday circular issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the National Development and Reform Commission and other central government departments said a campaign to combat air and ground water pollution will run from May to November.

Steel and cement factories, as well as power plants, will be more closely monitored, the circular said, adding that inspections will be stepped up in industries related to heavy metals, leather production and electroplating.

Experts believe that an upcoming air pollution reduction plan will set lower thresholds for PM2.5, or airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Multiple Chinese cities were hit with dense smog earlier this year. Beijing's average PM2.5 density in January was 180 micrograms per cubic meter, about 30 percent higher than that recorded during the same period in 2011, according to meteorological data.

Provincial governments have already created new air pollution control regulations. Anhui will focus on developing green transportation, eliminating old automobiles and controlling dust emissions from urban construction projects, said Miao Xuegang, head of the provincial environmental protection bureau.

In southwest China's Sichuan province, the provincial government plans to spend 6.2 billion yuan on a five-year air pollution control project

Despite government efforts to limit air pollution, experts say the country still has a long way to go before its air will be clean again.

It will take decades to find a balance between economic development and environmental protection, said economist Cheng Biding.

'Development may be slowed in the steel, cement and oil industries, which will affect the country's overall economic growth in the short-term,' Cheng said, adding that higher environmental protection standards will ultimately help upgrade China's industrial structure and give a boost to industries that conserve energy and respect the environment.