Beijing’s new ‘smog police’ detain man for causing air pollution for first time

Long criticised as toothless, capital’s environmental watchdog finally bares its teeth

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 11:15pm

The environmental watchdog in Beijing has bared its teeth by detaining a man for discharging untreated emissions into the air, as authorities becoming increasingly serious about dealing with the Chinese capital city’s persistent air pollution.

It is the first time Beijing’s environmental police have put someone behind bars since a new environmental police squad was set up in January to crack down on causes of air pollution, including open-air barbecues, garbage incineration and the burning of wood.

An inspection by the environmental watchdog of a heating supply company in Mentougou district found that a key air pollutant reduction component did not function at all due to “operation against regulation” by a staff member, which resulted in the emission of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide at 10 times the allowed level, according to a report on the website of the Legal Daily.

The company was ordered to rectify the problem and fined. The staff member was questioned and confessed to “abnormally operating ” a facility to avoid supervision, thus causing air pollution. He was put under administrative detention by the Beijing police on Monday.

The report did not name the offender or the company, or give details of the length of the punishment, but administrative detention can last up to 15 days.

China’s environmental inspection authority has been criticised as toothless for years, and enforcements to curb air pollution have been particularly weak as air pollution, unlike polluted water and waste disposal, is often hard to measure.

Smog levels in Beijing off the charts

China adopted a tougher Environmental Protection Law from January 1, 2015. The amended law gave the environmental protection authority more power to punish polluters, including fining them for a sustained period of time without a ceiling, shutting down factory facilities and detaining those responsible.

Beijing has frequently experiences severe smog with schools shut for days and cars ordered off the roads during the worst events. On some bad air days in winter the air pollution level exceeds the upper level of various air quality index monitors and is well beyond the World Health Organisation guidelines.

As public anger mounts over the issue, Premier Li Keqiang has promised to step up the battle against deadly smog and make the nation’s skies blue again.