VIEW LI YANG
most fertile land in the town, was very polluted with residue from heavy metals and pesticides.
Xia spent 3 million yuan ($500,000) to clean the soil in three months. Now Xia’s vegetables are very popular in the market at a price that is 10 times higher than that of other farmers.
“I am also happy because I will leave a patch of clean soil to local farmers when I leave here,” Xia said.
The Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta and Northeast China are economic engines and a main grain production base for China. But the soil in the three areas also is polluted by heavy metals from industry and mining, as well as pesticide and chemical fertilizer residues, compared with other inland areas.
Soil improvement is now a lucrative business in the Yangtze River Delta. But environmental and agriculture watchdogs do not have a system to monitor and repair the polluted soil.
And polluted soil in China is a huge problem as revealed last month in the first national survey on soil pollution.
From 2005 to 2013, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Ministry of Land and Resources sampled 6.3 million square kilometers of land, or 65.63 percent of China’s land area.
The results: an average of 16.1 percent of China’s soil is polluted; the size of the polluted arable land is nearly twice that of woodlands and grasslands.
Statistics show more than 12 million tons of grain are polluted by heavy metals in China each year, enough to feed nearly 40 million people a year.
Wang Shiyuan, vice-minister of the Ministry of Land Resources, said recently that the central government will spend hundreds of billions yuan each year from now on to repair the contaminated soil and the over exploitation of groundwater.
Yet, the Ministry of Environmental Protection estimates are that it will take dozens of trillions yuan to solve China’s soil pollution issue.
Chinese lawmakers need urgently to make the Soil Pollution Prevention and Control Law to provide a legal framework to address the challenge.
However, the law must grant the individual citizens and social organizations the power to launch collective suits against the polluters as well as the irresponsible government departments that fail in their duties as watchdogs.
The challenge is that the new Environmental Protection Law passed late last month still respects the government’s dominant power and status in deciding whether the polluters should be punished, and whether social organizations are qualified to charge the suspected polluters.
Experience in developed countries proves that improving their environment goes along with not only the rising of people’s environmental consciousness, but also their power to defend their legal rights.
After granting certain social organizations the rights to sue polluters, the lawmakers need to make it possible and easier for individual citizens to launch collective suits to defend the public interests on pollution issues. Otherwise, the polluting enterprises can easily muffle local governments by paying huge amount of taxes.
And the central government needs a special action plan to clean the soil and make soil protection a national strategy, rather than impromptu patch work.
In the most seriously polluted area, the government must initiate pilot soilimprovement projects as soon as possible to form a mature and practical soil amelioration model that can be transplanted nationwide.
Last but not least, the government needs to strengthen its supervision of any polluting behaviors. There should be a life-long accountability system of soil polluters. And the agriculture and food inspection authorities are the goalkeepers to prevent the polluted grains and problematic foods from entering the market.
Wheat grows in a patch of land recovered from contamination of polychlorinated biphenyl in Taizhou, Zhejiang province in this file photo taken in May 2013.