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China steps up pollution fight

National government deploys inspectors to crack down on industrial pollution

by Jean-François Tremblay
April 12, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 16

Credit: iStock
Citizens in Beijing and other large Chinese cities routinely don masks to avoid pollution.
A photo of a bicycle rider in China with a breathing mask.
Credit: iStock
Citizens in Beijing and other large Chinese cities routinely don masks to avoid pollution.

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) is sending 5,600 inspectors throughout the north of China as part of a one-year crackdown on the air pollution that afflicted Beijing, Tianjin, and other major Chinese cities for most of the winter. The national government’s move suggests that it doubts the ability or willingness of provincial and municipal administrations to confront polluters.

In a notice posted on its website, MEP said that, so far, its inspectors have discovered that the city of Handan in Hebei province was allowing the illegal operation of coal-fired boilers that had previously been ordered to close. A police investigation is ongoing, the ministry said.

National officials have also found close to 100 violations after inspecting nearly 200 sites, MEP said. The national inspectors’ methods include surprise visits to industrial sites and undercover work.

The north of China struggled with extremely high levels of air pollution throughout the winter. In early January, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which measures outdoor air quality, reported that its Air Quality Index had repeatedly breached 400, a level that it considers hazardous.

Chinese government officials have been attempting to pressure polluters and suspected polluters for several months now. As early as November, several firms in the Hebei province city of Shijiazhuang, including the drug company CSPC Pharmaceutical, were ordered to temporarily stop production.

No reports have surfaced of drug or chemical firms being affected by the latest crackdown.


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