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Environmental emergencies decreasing, but risks remain

By HOU LIQIANG | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-25 09:45
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The number of environmental emergencies has declined, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said on Monday, while cautioning against complacency.

Though the number of emergencies each year has dropped from around 700 in 2013 to approximately 300, Li Tianwei, director of the ministry's environmental emergency response office, highlighted the ongoing threat.

"The underlying risk hasn't fundamentally changed," Li said at a news conference. "No province is immune, with central and eastern regions experiencing more incidents due to a concentration of chemical industries."

Production and transportation accidents remain the primary culprits. Chemical spills, tailings pond breaches, fires, explosions and hazardous chemical transportation mishaps account for over 80 percent of environmental emergencies. Illegal discharges contribute about 10 percent.

Li pointed to several factors hindering rapid improvement: China's reliance on heavy industry; its coal-dominated energy mix; and the predominant use of road transportation for hazardous chemicals.

The sheer scale of potential hazards adds to the challenge. The country has over 7,000 tailings ponds and 165,000 kilometers of oil and gas pipelines.

The chemical sector poses a particular concern. China produces over 45,000 types of chemicals, with roughly 1,000 added each year. Nearly 3 million metric tons of hazardous chemical cargoes are transported on the country's roads every day.

"These chemicals pose a risk of leakage throughout their life cycle, from production and processing to consumption and disposal," Li warned.

Climate change further exacerbates the situation.

"China, like many other nations, is experiencing more frequent extreme weather events due to global warming," Li said. "These events, coupled with production risks, elevate the danger of secondary environmental emergencies."

He cited the 2021 example of extreme weather events triggering heavy metal pollution incidents in the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan. Unprecedented downpours in Zhengzhou, Henan province, that year resulted in spontaneous battery combustion, explosions at aluminum electrolysis plants and landfill leaks.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment's efforts to address these challenges will focus on stricter regulations, improved infrastructure and enhanced emergency response capabilities.

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