All cities in northeast China's Liaoning Province now have special vehicles to detect and respond to environmental accidents.
Authorities recently handed over environment emergency monitoring vehicles to 11 of the 14 cities in the province.
The other three cities, Shenyang, Dalian and Fushun, equipped themselves with the mobile stations several years ago.
"These vehicles mean it will take us less than half the time it would have done to monitor and examine pollution incidents if we faced such environmental disasters as the Songhua River accident. Our system is now among the best in China," said Zhao Hengxin, a top official from Liaoning Environmental Protection Bureau.
An 80 kilometre-long slick of benzene was formed on the Songhua River last November after a blast at a neighbouring PetroChina chemical factory in the northeastern Jilin Province.
The 14 vehicles, costing 700,000 yuan (US$87,500) each, are specially designed for environmental purposes. Their back seats have been removed to fit various kinds of monitoring equipment, including refrigerators, generators and labs. On its roofs, there are monitoring cameras.
The vehicles are capable of accurately detecting the pollutants' volume and any changes in water and air to provide immediate assistance at accident sites.
"With these mobile detecting stations, we can drive into the heart of the accident area and start work there. This could make the difference between life and death at certain accidents," said Bi Tong, chief of Liaoning environmental monitoring central station.
The vehicles may also eventually be used for monitoring the cities' major pollutant producers, such as chemical plants.
But Zhao said the current vehicles have only basic equipment, which are confined for water and air examination.
"We need at least 2 million yuan (US$250,000) to equip each vehicle to do more things," Zhao said.
Liaoning has taken a range of measures to protect the environment.
It has invested almost 300 million yuan (US$37 million) in establishing 68 air and eight water monitoring stations in sensitive areas.
"We have covered all 44 counties with such stations, which can provide basic pollution monitoring and examination," said Zhao.
The province's emergency response mechanism, however, is still considered rather backward.
According to Zhao, Liaoning will invest 1 billion yuan (US$123 million) to build an environmental alert and response system during the 11th Five Plan (2006-10) period.
In order to deal with increasing environmental disasters, several major cities in China, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, have been equipped with such vehicles.
Industry insiders said the potential market for the vehicles is huge, with the country paying more attention to environmental protection.
(China Daily March 20, 2006)