China’s Pollution Rising Amid Signs of Concern

By David L. Brown

China’s pollution emissions have risen dramatically in the last year, a fact that is attributed to the huge Asian nation’s rapid industrialization. According to a news report today in the China Daily on-line edition, measurements of COD or “chemical oxygen demand” rose by 4.2 percent over a year ago. (Although the article doesn’t explain, the term COD is commonly used to refer to a means of determing the amount of organic chemicals in surface water.) Sulfur dioxide emissions climbed by 5.8 percent, the article said.

This photo from the web site showing a power plant near Zhangjiakou illustrates the character of the problem:

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It appears that China is giving priority to expanding its industrial base, without assuring that the new factories and power plants are environmentally sound. Zhou Shengxian, minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), admits as much. He said that in the first half of 2006, “investment in fixed assets developed so fast that pollution treatment supervisors were unable to keep pace.” (Read it all here.)

The China Daily article added:

Fixed asset investment expanded by nearly 30 per cent, reaching 4.2 trillion yuan (US$525 billion). About 100,000 projects were launched, including heavy polluters such as mining and auto manufacturing.

“What needs to be focused upon is that some local industries operate seriously counter to environmental requirements,” Zhou said.

Ministry figures show that only 30-40 per cent of newly launched projects at county level have passed environmental impact assessment, according to Zhou.

Furthermore, construction of sulphur removal equipment lagged far behind development of high-energy consumption industries.

Of the coal-fired power plants with installed capacity of above 32 million kilowatts built in the past six months, half had no sulphur removal equipment when they started operations, Zhou said, without giving exact figures.

Although these facts seem grim, at least the Chinese are giving lip service to taking the problem seriously. The article went on to say that SEPA last week published environmental standards for construction and management of eco-industrial parks, the nation’s first green standard to put development of industrial parks onto an environmentally friendly track. There are currently 18 such parks across the country.

According to China Daily, in the past three years 1500 plants in southern China have been closed due to environmental hazards. SEPA inspections also will target environmental pollution treatment by industrial parks, where factories are concentrated and the possibility of pollution accidents are high. “Raising the green threshold of industrial parks is a step by the country to slow down fixed asset investment,” the report said.

China is the world’s fastest growing economy, and it is doing so the old-fashioned way—by building coal-fired power plants which have already proven inefficient and polluting in the West. As the United States and other First World nations move toward cleaner and more efficient infrastructure, China seems bent on duplicating the achievements of a century past. Already they are reaping the whirlwind of pollution, and spreading the greenhouse gases and toxins around the planet. Let’s hope they are serious in addressing these problems to become environmentally responsible citizens of the 21st Century world.

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