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May 25, 2011

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Downtown polluted soil fears

ALTHOUGH residents are paying more than 20,000 yuan (US$3,077) per square meter for apartments in downtown Shanghai, they could end up living on polluted land that threatens their health, scientists warned yesterday.

Experts are urging the government to introduce more effective supervision immediately, as the city's rapid growth increases the possibility of construction taking place on the former sites of polluting industrial operations.

In response, the local environmental watchdog said a new nationwide law to better regulate the use of polluted land will soon come into effect. The draft was passed in March by the national environment authority.

Under the new law, soil, especially on areas on or near former industrial plants - known as brownfield sites - will undergo stringent tests before development can take place, officials said.

Currently, development projects must pass an environmental appraisal that considers factors such as noise and the effect on surrounding areas. However, there are no specific soil pollution tests.

Shanghai environmental protection officials said the local government is "well aware" of the problem and will be checking the state of local land and suspending projects if pollution is found.

Officials also said in future the local urban planning watchdog will make pollution risks a key screening step when determining if a plot can be developed.

If land is found to be polluted, the developer or the factory previously operating on the site should pay to make the land safe, officials said.

Land that could not be rendered safe would not be developed, the watchdog said.

"In Shanghai, brownfield areas are mostly located in central districts," said Shen Jianhua, a scientist with Shanghai Institutes for Biological Science, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The biologist has submitted proposals on the issue to the city government.

Factories and mills have been gradually demolished or relocated from downtown over the past decade.

"But the pollutants in the soil do not disperse easily, unlike those in the water or air," said Shen. "They accumulate underground over time."

"When the pollution reaches a certain level, environmental problems break out," Shen added.

To date, Shanghai has not reported any confirmed cases of environmental problems caused by soil pollution.

In recent years in Beijing and Wuhan, some traffic and residential projects were suspended after the sites were found to be polluted from previous industrial use.


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