Some of China's most notorious polluters can help clean the environment without losing any money, government and business leaders said at an international conference in Beijing yesterday. And these industries must make a contribution to a cleaner China regardless, as Beijing is getting tougher on environmental crimes, the speakers said. However, pro-environmental business plans may not pay off right away for resource-intensive industries, about 100 participants at the two-day business-sponsored conference called 'Cleaning Up' heard. Mines, mills and gas companies could help clean the environment by reusing materials from other industries and switching to cleaner fuels such as natural gas, said Bjoern Stigson, president of the Geneva-based, 150-member World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Zhang Zhigang, Vice-Minister of the State Economic and Trade Commission, said companies should also use modern technology and new materials to reduce noxious factory emissions. The giant state-owned China Petroleum and Chemical Corp has implemented some of these measures. It had cut refinery-generated water pollution by 31 per cent over the past few years, company president Wang Lijing said at the conference, and last year it introduced natural gas to three major cities while stopping leaded gas production. Mr Wang anticipated Sinopec's water consumption would drop at least 30 per cent by 2006. Without such changes, Mr Stigson said, China was bound to be polluted as well as poor, because the resources people needed for development would be too dirty to use. Fellow conference speaker Gary Dirks, president of BP (China) Ltd, warned that companies might not see short-term returns, but said most would see long-term pay-offs. Since 1993, China has had a policy of developing but trying to preserve its environment, which became a focal issue during Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympics. Yet despite new laws to stop the spread of deserts and controlling emissions, an environmental magazine said seven of the world's 10 most-polluted cities last year were in China. Taiyuan in Shanxi province was the worst. Government officials acknowledge that water quality in the Yellow, Huai and Songhua rivers suffers from factories that do not clean their emissions. Water supply has also become an issue as the level of the Yellow River drops and droughts persist in northern China. Accordingly, the Government shut down 2,435 factories and fined 4,937 during a recent inspection for pollution law compliance, the Economic Times newspaper reported yesterday. Inspectors checked 18,084 enterprises, the article said. 'China can benefit, we believe, from the international business community,' Mr Stigson said. 'We have a lot of experience we can bring to China and help it on its development path.'