China still targeting heavy-metal polluters

Updated: 2012-03-04 07:50

By Li Jing (China Daily)

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BEIJING - China's environmental watchdog will continue to crack down on heavy-metal pollution amid a renewed wave of lead poisoning cases in recent months, according to Wu Xiaoqing, deputy minister of environmental protection.

"Together with eight other ministries, we will scrutinize several heavy-metal industries this year, mainly targeting illegal operations in acid lead-battery manufacturing, heavy-metal smelting and processing," Wu told China Daily. He was attending the plenary session of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee on Saturday.

In the first two months of this year, China reported four incidences of lead poisoning in Guangdong and Henan provinces, and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Nine cases of lead poisoning were recorded from January to August last year.

A nationwide blanket inspection of acid lead-battery manufacturers last year left a question mark on whether such measures are effective.

"The heavy metal pollution can accumulate in our environment and last for a long time, and it is also difficult to find out until such poisoning cases are reported," explained Wu, who is also a CPPCC member. "So we need to strengthen the efforts."

Over 1,000 enterprises were closed down during the past two years for illegal discharge of toxic heavy metals, according to Wu.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said existing pollution control efforts are helpful in curbing rampant heavy-metal pollution accidents, but gaps still exist.

"The existing emission standards for heavy metals are based on levels of concentration, instead of their total volume," said Ma.

"Therefore, for those large-scale factories, their total amount of emission can be quite significant even if they meet the emission standards.

"They pose a very dangerous threat to the public, because the heavy metals are not degradable and will stay in the environment," he said.

Moreover, factories involved with smelting and the processing of heavy metals are sometimes too close to residential areas.

He called for more public consultation when such businesses are introduced.

In January, a severe cadmium spill hit the Longjiang River in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. It threatened the water supply of more than 3.5 million people downstream.

China published a five-year blueprint to tackle heavy-metal pollution last year, targeting lead, mercury, chromium, cadmium and arsenic, which can cause irreversible harm to human organs.

China Daily

(China Daily 03/04/2012 page3)