Fewer than one in four main cities in China have safe air

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 7:37am

Only 27 out of 113 major cities recorded cumulative air quality that was deemed safe by national standards for all of last year, according to an annual update on China's environment status released yesterday.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said the overall pollution problems still remained grave last year, as 30 per cent of the country's major rivers were "polluted" or "severely polluted", while the quality of almost 60 per cent of tested groundwater was deemed to be "bad" or "extremely bad".

It also admitted that pollution in rural areas was worsening as industrial and mining activities expanded, as well as poultry farming.

But the annual environmental status update failed to address problems of greatest public concern. For instance, there was no mention of findings in a national soil-pollution survey, despite a public outcry calling for the release of the data over the past several months, nor was there any mention of recent scandals involving cadmium-contaminated rice.

The ministry also did not provide any data on PM2.5 levels, which indicate the amount of airborne superfine particulate matter considered a major health hazard and is largely caused by industrial coal burning and vehicle emissions.

Some experts said the latest annual update showed that the country's environmental deficit continued to expand in 2012, despite a nominal victory in beating pollution targets.

Emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide - pollutants belched from coal combustion and car exhausts - respectively dropped 4.5 and 2.8 per cent from 2011 levels. And chemical oxygen demand, a measurement of organic pollutants in water, dropped by 3 per cent, while ammonia-nitrogen emissions decreased by 2.6 per cent.

Zhou Rong , an energy and climate campaigner with Greenpeace, said the environmental ministry still seemed reluctant to disclose some key pollution data.

However, the ministry said in yesterday's statement that 100 out of 113 mainland cities could have met national air-quality standards last year if the assessment was based on the old set of rules. The new standards took effect this year.