ENVIRONMENTAL conditions in China's fastest growing province of Guangdong have been gradually deteriorating as industrialisation and urbanisation reach top gear, a senior official in the province's Government says. ''Population has increased so fast that it has exerted tremendous pressure on our environment. The situation is slowly deteriorating,'' said Li Zhiyian, vice-chairman of Guangdong's Environmental Protection Bureau. In Guangzhou last year, sulphur dioxide, a major pollutant of the atmosphere, exceeded 0.032 milligrams per cubic metre, Mr Li said. ''Big coal-fire electricity plants are the major sulphur dioxide polluters. But it takes too long to build nuclear plants and there is not enough water for hydro-electric plants,'' he argued. With intense emissions of sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide (also emitted in the combustion of coal and oil), acid rain had become a major headache in the province, Mr Li said. Fifty per cent of rain in the province was acidic in varying degrees, damaging buildings, crops and other living organisms in the province, he said. It was also discovered that nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere was increasing. ''Exhaust fumes have become a big public evil in the cities,'' Mr Li said. An official survey in Guangzhou found that the number of traffic police suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning had increased. Visibility in the city was low due to the high concentration of particles in the air, Mr Li said. ''It is always grim and dusky so that the chances of seeing a blue sky is really dim.'' Last year, the Pearl River Delta district was found to have a record 9.05 tonnes of dust per cubic metre a month, Mr Li said. ''The government standard is no more than eight tonnes per cubic metre. But in some areas, it goes as high as 14 tonnes per cubic metre,'' he added. ''It has everything to do with large-scale construction works where mountains were blasted for new roads and buildings. We have to bear with this for a few more years because construction for an infrastructure has yet to be completed.'' Water conditions in big rivers were ''all right'', Mr Li said, but sections passing through urban areas were deteriorating because of untreated sewage running into the river. While claiming that environmental conditions in past years were ''basically'' good with 53 per cent of the province forested and more than half of the 32 rivers in the province still clean enough to provide drinking water, the official admitted that a lack of investment had made environmental protection lag behind economic development and population growth. ''This is why we find ourselves so helpless, failing to put pollution under control,'' he said. Last year, 0.75 per cent of Guangdong's gross domestic product was earmarked for environmental protection. Mr Li said the figure would be increased to one to two per cent in the year 2000. Moreover, environmental management and green education would be strengthened while related legislations would be more effectively and strictly implemented in a bid to improve the environment.