Smog-prone Chinese province to offer big rewards for pollution whistleblowers

FILE PHOTO: Birds fly over a closed steel factory where chimneys of another working factory are seen in background, in Tangshan, Hebei province, China, February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The smog-prone northern Chinese province of Hebei will reward whistleblowers with cash payments of up to 100,000 yuan ($14,473.67) if they report incidents of pollution to the authorities, the local environmental watchdog said on Tuesday.

Hebei, which produces a quarter of China’s steel, has long been on the frontline of a nationwide “war on pollution”, launched in 2014 to reverse the environmental damage done by more than 30 years of breakneck industrial growth.

The province has closed down steel mills and chemical plants, converted thousands of household heating systems from coal to natural gas and imposed tough new fuel and air quality standards, though its major cities have remained among the country’s most polluted.

The new reward system was designed to “encourage the public to actively participate” in the clean-up campaign and will come into effect on Sept. 1, the Hebei Provincial Ecology and Environment Bureau said.

The highest 100,000-yuan payout would be granted to whistleblowers who expose the dumping of waste containing radioactive, infectious or poisonous materials, as well as those who uncover deliberate attempts by polluters to evade detection.

Rewards of up to 50,000 yuan would be given to those who uncover the illegal dumping of toxic heavy metals, it said.

Hebei’s air quality has improved significantly since 2014, with average concentrations of lung-damaging airborne particles known as PM2.5 falling 13% on the year to 47 micrograms per cubic metre in the first seven months of 2020.

The province, which surrounds the capital Beijing, also managed to meet China’s interim national standard of 35 micrograms from April to July, according to official data.

However, it remained the location of five of China’s 10 smoggiest cities from January to July, with the top steel producing city of Tangshan ranking the worst.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore