Chemical plants pose huge threat: watchdog

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2006, 12:00am

China's petrochemical industry threatens to do even more damage to the environment, with nearly half of the factories posing serious threats to major cities and waterways, says the country's top green watchdog.

Of the 7,555 petrochemical plants surveyed by the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa), 81 per cent are close to main rivers or densely populated areas, Sepa deputy director Pan Yue said yesterday.

Sepa's stark assessment of the industry's widespread pollution hazards comes amid the agency's renewed crackdown on polluters in the wake of a massive water crisis in the Songhua River last year.

Unprecedented attention has been placed on environmental protection, with China's top leaders and environmental authorities issuing harsh warnings over the impact of pollution disasters on social stability.

Mr Pan, who has been playing a high-profile role in the green campaign, attributed the soaring number of pollution accidents since last year to the location of chemical and petrochemical factories.

'Unless effective measures are taken to manage the risks, the trend of surging environmental accidents will not be checked,' he said in a statement that was posted on Sepa's website.

The lack of an effective mechanism to prevent and control environmental risks had worsened the situation, he added.

But he admitted that tackling the problems would be more difficult than acknowledging them because it would be impossible to relocate most of the factories.

'A total of 3,745 plants have been ordered to go through a major overhaul and 49 factories must be relocated,' he said. 'But such passive remedial measures are far from enough to curb the surge in environmental accidents.'

Although many factories had met green standards, their proximity to one another meant they collectively posed serious threats to the environment.

'It would be hard to prevent and control environmental risks without revising the law on green impact assessments and its implementation. This is the biggest challenge to environmental protection in the new era,' he said.

Jin Ruilin , an environmental law expert from Peking University, said poorly implemented laws had been the main obstacle to pollution control.