Information disclosure vital for curbing pollution

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A number of environmental pollution scares have hit the headlines recently in China, however the lack of concrete action taken by some local authorities in following through on effective prosecutions had made the public doubt the level of government transparency on the issue.

An official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a recent press release that the agency conducted a series of investigations from late February to March into underground water pollution cases involving 25,875 factories in North China. The investigations found 558 cases of illegal pollution, resulting in 88 enterprises being fined a total of 6.13 million yuan.

A total of 55 enterprises located in Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan, discharged and stored waste water using wells, sewage pits, ditches and other methods which were not leak-proof. Some 424 companies were ordered to correct their practices, according to the statement.

The environment watchdog's decision to publish the results of the investigation into underground water pollution should be applauded; however the public demands more details, such as which companies are discharging waste into underground water? How much sewage do these companies discharge? What is the exact procedure followed by those companies who discharge pollutants and are the pollutants toxic?

Such information is necessary in order to coordinate supervision procedures for environmental pollution together with the government.

The disclosure about such information could set a precedent which the government could follow in dealing with similar incidents in the future.

The Chinese environmental scholar Ma Jun said that the information which the government discloses regarding environmental pollution is always incomplete, scattered, and difficult to obtain, which is a serious problem.

In some areas of China, information about polluting enterprises and the results of legal investigations into their activities are always marked "highly sensitive", and local governments would rarely disclose such information, even if there was a public outcry demanding its publication. For instance, an NGO in Anhui Province once asked the local environment authorities to reveal certain information about a company which was involved in a pollution incident, but their request was denied under the banner of "state secrets".

Public supervision related to curbing environmental pollution is an indispensable part of the overall fight against pollution. However, the public must first be fully informed about instances of pollution.

The experience of developed countries shows that "information disclosure" is a truly effective method of managing the environment. For example, in 1986 the United States demanded that every company disclose its pollution data, and as a result, mainstream media and NGOs were able to force the largest polluters to cut their emissions through public pressure.

In general terms, information disclosure plays an important role in investigating and curbing underground water pollution. It is reported that the Ministry of Environmental Protection has ordered the local governments involved in recent pollution scandals to disclose the list of polluters, an action which ensures the investigation process into and administrative process of regulating environmental pollution will be supervised by society as a whole. Tackling underground water pollution can only be done effectively through the combined efforts of the government and the public nationwide.

The article was translated by Gong Yingchun. The original unabridged version was published in Chinese

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of



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