Chinese cities choke on filth

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The Independent Online
Peking - China is choking on its own industrial waste, according to an official report released yesterday. Half of the world's 10 most air-polluted cities are in China, it says.

Almost one-third of the country is afflicted with acid rain, and 50 per cent of its principal rivers are contaminated, the National Environmental Protection Agency director, Xie Zhenhua, was quoted as saying in the China Daily newspaper. Xie said the agency was considering combating the problem with taxes and fines.

"Harsher economic punishment could help guarantee adherence to environmental laws and regulations," the paper paraphrased Xie as saying.

China's phenomenal double-digit economic growth of recent years has come at the expense of the environment. All across the country, new factories are spewing pollutants into the air and water. Enforcement of environmental laws and regulations is lax. Experts say that many factories that are required to treat waste, for example, turn treatment systems on when government inspectors visit but, to save on energy costs, shut them back down when they leave.

Xie said his agency planned to impose fines on any factory that discharged untreated waste. At present, only factories that discharge excessive amounts of waste are fined.

He said half of China's seven most important river systems were contaminated, and acid rain, caused when clouds are seeded with sulphur dioxide, had spread to 29 per cent of China's territory. Peking, Shenyang, Xian, Shanghai and Canton are among the world's 10 worst cities for air pollution, the EPA director said.

The agency is considering imposing taxes on economic activities that harm the ecology and on products that hurt the environment. The report did not give any details. It said the money collected from these two sources would be used for pollution control projects around China.

Xie said revised laws on control of air and water pollution were expected to be promulgated in the spring, and the agency would start revising environment protection laws this year.

The border crossing from China's southern boom town of Shenzhen to Hong Kong is the busiest land transport post in Asia, the Xinhua news agency reported yesterday. Last year 3.97 million vehicles carrying 9.78 million tons of cargo crossed the border. Agencies