February 17, 2010
China’s first official nationwide census of pollution sources found that the nation’s water is much more polluted than official estimates originally reported. According to the report, the amount of pollution discharged into the water totaled 30.3 million metric tons in 2007—more than double the 13.8 million tons the government originally reported two years ago, when officials claimed water pollution had declined 3% from the previous year.
The comprehensiveness of the new survey, said Zhang Lijun, vice minister for environment protection, explains the major increase in water pollution from many of the calculations and annual figures published by the government in the past. The new survey was also the first time the government included wastewater runoff from farms laden with chemicals such as ammonia in its calculations.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a nonprofit research group in Beijing, said government planners had estimated that the country’s rivers and lakes could handle only 7.4 million tons a year of chemical oxygen demand. The scale and significance of agricultural effluent was seldom recognized in previous government planning, which focused primarily on bringing down industrial emissions to around 7 million tons a year from 13.8 million tons, said Mr. Ma, a leading expert on water pollution in China.
The new total of more than 30 million tons suggests a much larger problem. “We believed we needed to cut our emissions in half, but today’s data means a lot more work needs to be done,” he said.
The extent of agricultural waste could prove a more intractable problem than that of the many factories dumping effluent into China’s rivers and lakes.
Tuesday’s data also showed that China is producing far more industrial waste, including hazardous material, than previously reported. The ministry said industrial solid waste such as particles from mines or steel mills totaled 49.14 million tons in 2007—more than triple earlier figures for the same year. The ministry didn’t give an explanation for the discrepancy.
Environmentalists warned that the impact of the survey may be limited, as local officials—judged primarily on economic performance—will be reluctant to implement tougher standards that might slow industrial growth.
The pollution census, scheduled to be repeated in 2020, took more than two years to complete. According to the government, it involved 570,000 people, and included 1.1 billion pieces of data from nearly 6 million sources of pollution, including factories, farms, homes and pollution-treatment facilities.
For more information on agricultural pollution, see “Greener Pastures: Decentralizing the Regulation of Agricultural Pollution” by Elizabeth Brubaker, Executive Director of Environment Probe.
Categories: Beijing Water