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April 17, 2017

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Strict controls paint skies blue in one of China’s most polluted cities

IT was with some reluctance that Ma Xiaobing upgraded his kebab stall by investing in a smoke control device, but he is doing much better business now.

“In the past, we roasted four legs of lamb each day. Currently, we need about 20 a day,” said Ma of Lanzhou in Gansu Province. “There are more diners and we are busier than ever.”

Lanzhou, a city in the Yellow River valley in the country’s arid northwest, was once among China’s most polluted cities. Pollution was so bad that people joked that the town did not show up on satellite images.

Strong pollution control measures have lowered PM10 and PM2.5 densities in the city to less than 75 percent of 2013 levels. Last year, the annual number of blue sky days increased by 50 to reach 243.

The provincial capital has become “a model of air quality improvement,” according to a central inspection team. Annual coal consumption in the city has been reduced from 10 million tons in 2012 to around 6 million tons last year.

Yang Mingyan, a subdistrict office clerk, is one of the city’s 10,000 pollution supervisors.

“Every morning, I check the area I am responsible for to see who is burning what, and whether substandard coal or wood is being used. If I find a problem, I will ask whoever is responsible to stop. If they will not listen to me, I report the matter to superior authorities.”

All cities have anti-pollution policies, but in Lanzhou these policies are strictly enforced.

“Some cities are afraid or unable to deal with big companies in environmental protection for fear it will affect their economy, but Lanzhou has no such problem,” said Xing Lifeng, deputy director of the environmental protection bureau.

The bureau has fined a leading state-owned petrochemical enterprise and asked companies to apologize to citizens.

Some officials were punished for failing to properly carry out their pollution control duties while others who showed more enthusiasm were promoted.

“In fact, many of our measures are not very innovative, but in Lanzhou polluters are subject to the full force of the law,” said Xing.

Some heavily polluted cities, such as Shijiazhuang and Zhengzhou, have sent officials to Lanzhou to study its experiences first hand.

Many of Lanzhou’s successes could easily be transplanted to other places, said Ma Jianmin of Lanzhou University.

For example, it is standard practice in Lanzhou for personnel to visit big polluters and see for themselves what is going on, he said.

The government expects good air quality days to account for more than 80 percent in all cities at prefectural level and above by 2020.

“Lanzhou still has some way to go to meet the goal. Pollution decreases initially by dealing with that which is the easiest to control. Pollution control is therefore increasingly difficult and our work becomes harder with every success,” said Chen Yimin, a Lanzhou environmental official.


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