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China pollution

Dirty diesel trucks are now the main roadblock in smog fight, Beijing warns

Number of big polluters on the road in northern China is still growing despite efforts to redirect freight to the railway system, environment ministry says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 6:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 9:51pm

The ever growing convoy of diesel trucks rumbling along the roads of northern China is now a major hurdle in the region’s ongoing battle against air pollution, environment officials have warned.

Despite efforts to redirect factory shipments to the railway system, the number of these big polluters on the road is still growing at a double-digit pace in the country’s industrial heartland, according to Liu Youbin, spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

That increase has led to a rise in the level of hazardous nitrogen oxides in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region this year, he said.

“All cities except a few have seen their nitrogen dioxide levels rise above the standard level,” Liu said at a monthly briefing on Thursday. “The excessive number of heavy-duty diesel trucks, the excessively fast growth of that number and their excessive emissions are the major reasons.”

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Liu said intensive coal burning in the region, along with its significant chemical industry and the vast number of diesel trucks on the road were the “three big mountains” in the way of cleaner air.

Last year, about one-fifth of the nitrogen dioxides in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area were emitted by its 830,000 heavy-duty diesel trucks, he said.

The authorities are scrambling to meet ambitious targets to improve air quality in the notoriously smog-choked northern region this year and strict limits have been imposed on factories to rein in their use of the cheap but heavily polluting trucks.

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In a “battle plan” released in August, 28 northern cities pledged to at least halve the amount of industrial goods transported by road during days of severe air pollution this winter.

The ministry also set permanent targets for more than 20 power and steel companies, directing them to carry more raw materials and products by rail.

But during recent periods of severe air pollution in Beijing, nitrate compounds – a large amount of which comes from diesel trucks – were still the fastest-growing components of the harmful PM2.5 particulates in the air, Liu said.

On Thursday, the ministry pledged to speed up the process of making the railway network a more significant part of freight transport.

Liu said six container terminals in northern China had stopped using trucks to carry coal, while a number of factory towns were building railway links to steel and aluminium plants. That could eliminate tens of thousands of daily trips made by heavy-duty diesel trucks, he said.

He added that diesel trucks would be banned from the roads altogether when severe smog alerts were in place.

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Pollution levels have remained high in the north despite measures to cut factory and vehicle emissions, and the government is under mounting pressure to meet its air quality targets.

Last month, 11 of the 28 northern cities recorded a year-on-year rise in the concentration of PM2.5 particulates, according to government data.

One city in Shanxi province, Jincheng, saw PM2.5 levels surge by 139 per cent in October. It has promised to cut levels of the particulate by 10 per cent over autumn and winter.

Liu said some of the cities had failed to achieve any major improvement in air quality, while others had even seen pollution worsen.

“If places have not taken effective steps ... dragged down air quality in the region, and hurt the happiness of the people, we will quantify [the problem] and hold them accountable,” he said.