China's environmental chief on Thursday unveiled a set of tough new rules set to tackle worsening lake pollution, while lambasting the country's "local policies" that encouraged officials to turn a blind eye to environmental hazards.
The regulations follow findings showing "rampant" violation of environment rules by almost nine in ten of the country's industrial parks and two fifths of companies.
Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said the new rules covering China's three major lake areas -- the eastern Taihu Lake, Chaohu Lake and the southwestern Dianchi Lake -- included:
n A ban on all projects involving discharges containing ammonia and phosphorus, and the denial of existing applications to establish such projects.
n A ban on the production, use, and sales of detergents containing phosphorous around the lake drainage areas.
n The removal of all fish farms from the three lake areas by the end of 2008.
n A ban on fish, vegetable, and flower farms that may involve the use of fertilizers within one kilometer of the lakeside.
Zhou outlined the measures at a special meeting on lake pollution in Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province.
In the last two months, blue-green algae outbreaks have been reported in the three lake areas, endangering domestic water supplies. On July 4, water supply to 200,000 people in Shuyang County, Jiangsu Province, was halted for more than 40 hours after ammonia and nitrogen were found in a local river.
"Environmental problems, if improperly handled, can trigger major social crises, and improving water quality has become our most urgent task," Zhou told environmental officials.
SEPA investigations showed 87.3 percent of the 126 industrial parks in 11 provinces had violated environmental rules, allowing environmentally harmful companies into their parks.
They also showed half of the 75 waste water processing factories failed to properly process water or were not operating at all. Of 529 companies that SEPA inspected, 44.2 percent were violating environmental rules.
"Hazards are everywhere, and environmental accidents are very likely to happen," he said.
Some local officials often relied on companies for GDP contribution and their own promotions, and failed in their responsibilities to supervise the companies' environmental impacts.
"We must get rid of all protective local policies that sacrifice the environment for profit," Zhou said.
Frequent water pollution incidents also increased the cabinet's concern, as a State Council executive meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday stressed the need to amend the existing law on handling water pollution, allowing for harsher punishments.
China recorded 161 pollution accidents last year, according to the SEPA. The authorities shut down 3,176 polluting plants in a campaign in which the discharges of 720,000 companies were inspected last year.
(Xinhua News Agency July 13, 2007)