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February 10, 2010

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China takes lead role with data on pollution

CHINA'S first national pollution census has identified nearly 6 million sources of industrial, residential and agricultural waste throughout the country.

The survey focusing on industrial and agricultural pollution, domestic rubbish and the country's pollution control would provide a reference for the design of China's five-year plan from 2011 to 2015, Zhang Lijun, vice minister of environmental protection, told a news conference in Beijing yesterday.

The survey examined 5.93 million pollution sources and found 49.15 million tons of industrial solid waste and 39,400 tons of hazardous solid waste.

More than 23.2 tons of sulfur dioxide, 17.98 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 19.21 million tons of dust were dumped into the atmosphere via exhaust gas in 2007.

The census, which took two years and 570,000 staffers to complete, also included agricultural pollution for the first time, Zhang said.

"This is an incredibly ambitious source survey of pollutants," said Deborah Seligsohn, principal adviser for the World Resources Institute on China climate and energy issues.

"In terms of giving them an excellent basis for being able to manage and track what they're doing, it's a huge step forward."

The survey puts China ahead of other developing countries in having a map of who is polluting and where.

"That's huge," Seligsohn said. "Many challenges China faces in terms of water quality come from organic pollution rather than from chemicals."

The census registered 30.29 million tons of chemical oxygen demand, a key index for water pollution, in the country's water systems in 2007, which was a 119 percent surge from the official figure released two years ago.

A research result published by the National Bureau of Statistics reported that 2007 was the first year China managed to reduce water pollution, with COD falling 3 percent to 13.8 million tons.

However, the sharp contrast was mainly due to the census's expanded scope which included agricultural wastewater, a section that contributed 13.24 million tons to the total amount and different calculation methods, Zhang said.

There were 900 tons of heavy metal, 423,200 tons of phosphate and 4.73 million tons of nitrogen, most of which came from agricultural fertilizers discharged into China's water system in 2007.

Zhang said water pollution couldn't be solved unless agricultural pollution in rural China was tackled.

He said China's pollution levels might peak sooner than the world expected.

"Because China's path to economic development has been different from that taken by developed nations, China may well pass the peak polluting levels and see marked improvement by the time our per capita income reaches the US$3,000 level," he said.

Zhang said the environmental protection ministry was cooperating with tax officials and the finance ministry to work out a plan for an environmental-protection tax.

The database of 5.93 million pollution sources will eventually be made public, he said.


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