It has taken Chinese authorities 10 years to prepare their first road map for tackling soil pollution – a problem that affects one-fifth of the nation’s farmland – and the first deadline for improvements is just four years away. But one environmental campaigner working for Greenpeace said the plan – announced this week by the State Council “lacks teeth” and some provinces faced a “daunting challenge” in meeting some of its deadlines. The plan sets two major deadlines – the first involves stabilising soil quality to ensure 90 per cent of polluted farmland and industrial sites is safe to use by 2020. A second deadline involves making improvements to soil quality so that 95 per cent of all contaminated land is safe to use by 2030. The strategy, which follows similar schemes targeting air and water pollution, comes after state media reported in April that hundreds of students fell ill at Changzhou Foreign Languages School in Jiangsu province after they moved to a new campus next to a severely contaminated site that had been home to a number of chemical factories. Hundreds of pupils at school near toxic site in east China fall ill, some with cancer, state TV reports A national survey on soil pollution, carried out between 2006 and 2011 but published only in 2014, found nearly one-fifth of the nation’s agricultural land is polluted. The Ministry of Environmental Protection decided against publishing details of the findings, saying a more thorough investigation was needed. The State Council’s 13,000-word plan set out comprehensive deadlines that ministries and local governments must meet when carrying out various tasks, such as establishing technical standards and guidelines for the safe use of farmland, rehabilitating toxic industrial sites and building up a nationwide platform for information on pollution. Ada Kong, the toxics campaign manager of Greenpeace East Asia, said the blueprint was a “welcome first step in tackling the massive problem threatening China’s public health”. [The plan] avoids mentioning the long-awaited soil pollution prevention law Ada Kong, Greenpeace However, Kong said the action plan “lacks teeth” because it made only a vague mention of establishing a “legal framework” on soil pollution by 2020. “The action plan fails to provide specific details about what this ‘legal framework’ will be, and avoids mentioning the long-awaited soil pollution prevention law, which will have real binding force for tackling pollution,” Kong said. Under the plan, governments at the regional level are encouraged to set up at laws and regulations for tackling the issue. Are you at risk from China’s polluted soil? Check this map By the end of 2018 authorities will need to be clear about the overall size and location of polluted farmland and the impact the sites have on agricultural products. Provinces that had been involved in pilot projects on preventing agricultural pollution, such as Guangdong and Hunan, might achieve the targets on time, Kong said. No quick fix for China's polluted soil However, other provinces might find the challenge daunting, she said. The blueprint sets a deadline of 2017 for drawing up a proposal that will make companies responsible for treating polluted industrial sites, opening up a lucrative market for companies that can provide the service. It also calls upon the central government to set up a special fund to tackle soil pollution problems, as well as a separate fund to help upgrade technology and equipment in the heavy metal sector.