Environmental pollution, mostly related to leakage of dangerous chemicals, poisoned 536 people last year, according to an official report released on Tuesday.
In 2005, China experienced 76 environmental emergencies, nine more than the previous year, said the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) report.
Last November, a chemical plant blast in northeastern Jilin Province released 100 tons of toxic benzene and nitrobenzene into the Songhua River, forcing officials to cut off water supplies to millions of people downstream. It was one of China's biggest environmental accidents since the founding of New China in 1949.
Earlier statistics show there were 51,000 disputes over environmental pollution last year, indicating that it is a greater threat to social stability.
Last year saw 17,751 geological disasters, such as landslides and mud-rock flows, causing 1,021 casualties with 578 dead, 104 missing and 339 injured, the report said.
South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region alone reported 1,239 geological disasters last year with 51 deaths. The region's hilly terrain and excessive rainfall make it vulnerable to geological disasters.
It also reported 22 earthquakes measuring over 5.0 on the Richter scale in China last year, with 13 rocking the mainland and nine hitting Taiwan. But it didn't reveal the total number of casualties.
It said that the deterioration of China's environmental pollution was slowed down last year, while the country still maintained its rapid economic development pace. China saw its GDP (gross domestic product) grow by 9.9 percent in 2005.
But Zhu Guangyao, deputy director of SEPA, warned that too rapid economic growth is not sustainable as it will put tremendous pressure on environmental resources.
The 11th Five-Year Plan has set China's average annual growth rate at 7.5 percent for the next five years.
The report said that in 2005, the drinking water resources in major cities were well protected, the coastal environment has been improved, and air quality in urban areas had been enhanced.
(Xinhua News Agency June 7, 2006)