Process will be time-consuming and expensive: experts
The contaminated pits recently found in North China are symptomatic of a larger problem, but the central government is stepping up efforts to curb water pollution across the country although the process is hard and time-consuming, experts said Monday.
Liangjiang Huanbao, an NGO based in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, said Wednesday that they had found several large pits filled with polluted water in North China during an inspection tour of the region.
The largest one, located in Dacheng county in North China's Hebei Province, covers an area of 170,000 square meters, equal to the size of 23 football pitches.
Li Fuxing, director of the Beijing Public Health Drinking Water Institute, told the Global Times on Monday that the polluted pits were so devastating due to the large size of the contaminated areas and the long-term impact, and to avoid public panic, local governments are expected to roll out some emergency measures to guarantee safe drinking water for local residents.
"Such cases of polluted water are not accidental; instead, they have now become normal phenomena in the country," Li said.
China's environmental authorities moved faster this time than before, with an immediate investigation, quickly arranged treatment plan and timely updates about the situation, according to Li.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) launched a probe with the Hebei provincial government on the pits on Wednesday morning and confirmed that they were polluted by the afternoon. The two pits were caused by digging years ago and were polluted in 2013 by illegal pouring of sulfuric acid, said the ministry, citing Dacheng government.
The government has been gradually dealing with the polluted pits, but the pollution control work has not been completed yet, The Beijing News said on Monday.
The Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday that local officials related to the matter were criticized and punished due to their failure to properly curb the pollution.
The MEP said at a briefing on Friday that the ministry will conduct a comprehensive investigation into the pits' water pollution.
It would cost around 200 million yuan ($29 million) to treat the pollution from the 170,000-square-meter pit in Hebei, The Beijing News report said, citing industrial experts.
Water pollution treatment is difficult because the process involves many economic interests, said Bai Ou, a Beijing-based industrial expert.
"For instance, wastewater treatment would affect local employment and tax revenue," he noted.
Bai told the Global Times on Monday that local governments should be prepared for a temporary negative impact on local economic growth as they are expected to strengthen efforts to shut down some heavily polluting enterprises and increase punishments for companies that are found responsible for pollution.
China's environmental laws are not comprehensive at the moment, and the central government is expected to put forward more effective rules, according to Bai.
"It is quite urgent to treat water pollution, but the process is difficult and will take many decades, based on similar experience in other countries like Japan," said Li.
Apart from the pits in Hebei, the volunteer group also found similar pits in farmland in Tianjin's Jinghai district, of which the largest covers about 150,000 square meters.
With the development of the Jingjinji area (Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region), sewerage treatment is not merely the responsibility of Hebei Province or Tianjin Municipality, and it involves more joint efforts to cover wider areas, Bai said, adding that this effort would have to apply not only in North China, but the whole country.
North China suffers from many forms of pollution, affecting water, soil and air quality due to the large volume of heavily polluting industries in the region, including mining, steel and coal, experts said, noting that the central and local governments are expected to increase efforts to curb the pollution.
The key to addressing the problem is that "not only China's governments and companies, but also Chinese people should shoulder their responsibilities and enhance environmental protection awareness," Li said.
The MEP and the Ministry of Finance jointly released a document on Wednesday, saying that they will give incentives to governments at all levels based on their performance in tackling water pollution.