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SEPA sets sights on polluted soil
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Environmental authorities will be inspecting farmland and construction sites this year in their fight against soil pollution.

The authorities will monitor farmland to ensure that no hazardous, toxic or polluting materials are present at major farms or key agricultural production bases, Zhou Shengxian, minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said yesterday at the year's first national soil pollution control meeting in Beijing.

SEPA inspectors will focus especially on farmland involved in the vegetable basket program, a project designed to ensure an adequate supply of fresh and safe non-staple food, he said.

"Other uses will be suggested for farmland with serious pollution problems," Zhou said.

He said the environmental watchdog will crack down on farms that use wastewater for irrigation. The use of pesticides, fertilizer and weed killers will be closely monitored.

"Standards will be put in place for organic food production," Zhou said. "Pilot bases for organic food are to be established with support from special funds from the central government."

He said the SEPA will also set up an investigation system for pollution at new construction sites.

A database of unoccupied polluted areas in cities, such as former industrial sites, will be built, giving local authorities a tool to determine how such land should be used, he said.

The authorities are in the process of carrying out a nationwide soil pollution survey that began in 2006 and is expected to finish this year.

The government budgeted 1 billion yuan ($138 million) for the project, which is expected to produce a comprehensive report on soil pollution distributions, types, amounts and sources. The authorities will use the results to work out plans for treating the soil and identifying further risks.

"China is facing a tough task in treating its soil pollution," Zhou said.

"On one hand, the country's soil suffers from pollution from a complicated collection of sources. On the other, unsafe agricultural products and health problems caused by soil pollution are appearing with greater frequently. We must treat soil pollution."
The SEPA estimates that every year, about 12 million tons of grain are polluted by heavy metals, resulting in direct economic losses of more than 20 billion yuan.

(China Daily January 9, 2008)

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