April 25, 2017 / 12:51 AM / 3 years ago

China's environment ministry finds patchy progress on water and soil pollution

BEIJING (Reuters) - Efforts to tackle water pollution in China remain uneven with some areas worsening in 2016, while heavy metals and other pollutants continued to accumulate in Chinese soil, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said.

In a yearly work report, Chen Jining, head of the MEP, told the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, a top Chinese decision making body, that overall air, water and soil pollutants had improved in 2016, according to a post on the NPC website late on Monday.

However, “Improvements in water quality are uneven, some bodies for water are worsening,” Chen said, noting that checks on water quality in northern China’s Liao River and Songhua River found more poor quality sections than in 2015.

Agricultural land soil quality “does not allow for optimism and “the problem of soil pollution for industry, companies and nearby land is prominent,” Chen said.

MEP samples found that 36.3 percent of heavy polluting industries’ land and the surrounding soil did not meet government standards, he added.

Chen urged reporters in March to focus on overall trends, which showed China was making rapid progress in its anti-pollution efforts, even though serious problems remained.

China says it is confident it can win its “war on pollution” after strengthening legislation, beefing up its monitoring capabilities and cracking down on hundreds of polluting firms, and says average air quality improved noticeably in 2016.

Chen also called in his NPC work report for more to be done in the fight against air, water, and soil pollution, saying that although efforts to manage the environment were moving forward, the job is becoming more complex and difficult as time goes on.

China detained 720 people and received 33,000 tip-offs on environmental violations in 2016 and issued fines worth 440 million yuan ($64 million), according to the report.

Air quality improved, Chen said, with 78.8 percent of days being considered “good days”, up 2.1 percentage points from 2015.

But air quality in January and February of 2017 was markedly worse than a year earlier according to MEP data released in March.

At the time, high winter coal consumption combined with unfavorable weather conditions to create heavy smog build-ups throughout northern China, forcing dozens of cities in the region to issue “red alerts” designed to curb industrial activity and thin traffic.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Richard Pullin

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