Crackdown on heavy polluters along Songhua

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am

Industrial projects restricted on one of mainland's key waterways

Heavily polluting projects will no longer be permitted along the Songhua River, one of the most polluted waterways in China that traverses the old industrial belt in the northeast, the country's environmental chief said.

State Environmental Protection Administration director Zhou Shengxian told a national conference on the prevention and treatment of pollution on the river that six measures should be implemented to ensure that the Songhua could be 'left at peace and rejuvenate'.

The Songhua, which originates in Jilin province and flows into Heilongjiang , Inner Mongolia and Russia, became notorious in November 2005 when a PetroChina plant in Jilin exploded and spilled 100 tonnes of toxic benzene compounds into the river.

Millions were left without drinking water in freezing cold for four days in the downstream city of Harbin .

The river, which runs through 25 old industrial cities heavily reliant on petrochemical, gold smelting, leather and electrolytic plants, also suffers from the perennial dumping of industrial waste and unsatisfactory or non-existent sewage treatment.

Official statistics show that the river topped the country in carrying 784,000 tonnes of chemical oxygen demand - a measure of pollutants in surface water - in 2005.

That same year, 34 per cent of the river was classified as grade V pollution - the worst level of pollution by mainland standards - and that figure jumped to 45 per cent during the icy winter.

The conference, chaired by Mr Zhou and attended by representatives from different ministries and the three provincial governments, listed as a first priority that authorities should 'raise the bar' and tighten permission for heavily polluting industrial projects.

This means that during the 11th five-year plan all projects which might release heavy metals or non-biodegradable organic pollutants should be banned. The blacklist will be expanded to include steel and other smelting processes during the 12th five-year plan.

'Controlling the source of pollution has always been part of the policy but this time they have put a stronger emphasis on it,' said Ma Jun of Harbin Institute of Technology, who was involved in containing the damage of the toxic spill in 2005.

Water pollution activist Ma Jun , unrelated to Professor Ma, said the new emphasis was in line with the environmental watchdog's policy on limiting permission for new industrial projects in certain regions since early this year.

'Our environment can only contain a limited amount of pollutants, and it is correct to put old projects under control before allowing new projects to join,' Mr Ma said.

Other measures discussed at the conference include getting rid of backward production processes like substandard paper mills and food processing plants, strengthening the protection of drinking water sources and stepping up the pollution treatment efforts of target industries.

The government also pledged early last year to invest 10 billion yuan to implement 200 pollution prevention and treatment projects.

Measures to rejuvenate the Songhua River

1 Tighten granting of new permits for high-polluting industrial processes

2 Get rid of backward production processes

3 Strengthen protection of drinking water sources

4 Step up treatment of pollution from target industries

5 Speed up urban waste treatment: 50% before 2008, 70% before 2010

6 Standardise exploration of new water resources and environmental protection