China: Groundwater Pollution Arouses Concern (Listening)

Photo taken on Jan. 6, 2013 shows Zhuozhang River which is polluted by the aniline released from the Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi Province. [Photo: Xinhua]

Chinese environmentalists have been calling on authorities to tighten supervision over the country's water contamination and to improve transparency of monitoring data.

He Fei has the details.

Water contamination has caught increasing attention among the Chinese public.

Some have gone so far as to challenge local environmental officials to swim in a polluted river.

Ma Jun has been an active environmentalist for more than 10 years.

"About half of the surface water being monitored is polluted to some extent. And now some say 90 percent of the groundwater is contaminated as well. I think that refers to the shallow groundwater, which can be easily affected by the surface. The situation in the deep layer is better."

However, Ma adds that's nothing to be cheerful about.

"The water contamination in China is now expanding from the surface to the ground. It spreads from small spots to large areas. The latest data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection shows that by 2011, half of the water wells monitored in 200 cities are scaled as poor or very poor in quality."

Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei says the government is taking the issue seriously.

"We've drafted plans for preventing groundwater pollution. We're now working together with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources to crack down on illegal sewage discharges. People will have clean, trustworthy and safe water."

Many grassroots organizations are also getting actively involved in the cause.

For example, Ma and his Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs have set up a system to map water pollution sources. It can also provide information about the water quality and the sewage discharge situations.

"In China, nearly 300 million rural people can't have clean potable water every year. One of the main reasons for that is the groundwater pollution. It also affects the soil and causes problems for grain production."

According to Ma, China has the technical capacity and money to solve the problem but it lacks the most important thing, the impetus. The reasons range from law enforcement difficulties to a lack of social supervision.

To Ma, the disclosure of environmental information, especially pollution sources, is the key to solve the problem.

Together with many other environmentalists, Ma is pushing the government to disclose monitoring data online.

"Just think when we open the environmental information to the public, especially the information about pollution sources, we will put these polluting enterprises under the sun. Under such pressure, the local governments will have to strengthen their law enforcement. And it'll be easier to obtain evidence in environmental lawsuits as well. In this way we can improve the social supervision."

The recently issued pollutants monitoring regulation stipulates polluters must publish their monitoring data to the public.

Zhang Quan is the director of Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau. He is also a deputy to the 12th National People's Congress.

"The information about pollutants will be more open of course. However, it needs some time. When doing so, I think, we should make sure the data is accurate, trustworthy and scientific. Wrong information may arouse panic. I think information disclosure is the key principle and covert information is only an exception."

However, information disclosure is not the final goal for environmentalists like Ma.

"We cannot stop there. I want to know the density of PM 2.5 to see whether I need a mask, but I can't do that forever. I need to know who is responsible for that and then curb it."

For CRI, I'm He Fei.


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