Discovery of vast, toxic pits spurs national inspection in China

Beijing’s ‘war on pollution’ struggles to win local battles

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 11:24pm

The Ministry of Environmental Protection is organising a nationwide inspection of polluted soil after massive acidic sewage pits were found in Tianjin and Hebei province.

A green group discovered the polluted pits in Tianjin’s Jinghai district and in Dacheng county in Hebei.

The pits cover more than 350,000 square metres, and the group said on social media it feared the sites had made water and soil in the region unsafe.

Members of the Chongqing ­Liangjiang Voluntary Service Centre, which is based in Chongqing, said preliminary tests showed the sewage in all the pits was strongly acidic.

Tian Weiyong, head of the monitoring department at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said on Friday that the ministry was organising a nationwide inspection of problematic soil and would seriously punish any offenders.

“The sewage pits in Tianjin and Hebei involved at least two ­offences, evading supervision and avoiding responsibility by ... discharging dangerous waste illegally,” Tian was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

The pits in Tianjin were formed in the 1970s after local brick and tile factories dug away earth nearby. The green group speculated that tanker trunks later dumped sewage into these pits, according to China Youth Daily.

The district had completed treatment for the pits in 2014, yet the problem reoccurred last year. Retreatment work was expected to be completed in July, the newspaper reported.

A statement by the Langfang municipal government, which administers Dacheng county in Hebei, said the pits there formed gradually over the years and had been contaminated by illegally dumped acid waste in 2013.

Previous efforts to treat the pits failed and the county government had earmarked a further 38 million yuan (US$5.52 million) for the project, the statement said.

It added that two officials in charge of environmental protection in the county had been suspended pending an investigation.

Thousands of polluters in northern China fake emissions data, resist checks

The environmental ministry launched an inquiry this month in 28 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, a pollution hot spot, and found that more than two-thirds of the companies investigated had violated environmental rules, Tian said. More than 4,000 firms had been investigated as part of the campaign, and 2,808 were found to have violated environmental rules, representing 69 per cent of the total.

The ministry has traditionally struggled to impose its will on powerful industrial enterprises and on growth-obsessed local governments.

The mainland imposed total fines of 6.63 billion yuan for environmental violations in 2016, up 56 per cent compared to the previous year, the ministry said in a statement yesterday.

Additional reporting by Reuters