Land cleanup

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO HUANXIN and WU WENCONG Con­tact the writ­ers at zhao­huanxin@chi­ cn and wuwen­cong@chi­ Jin Zhu con­trib­uted to this story.

The coun­try has halted the farm­ing of con­tam­i­nated arable land al­most the size of Bel­gium and will re­ha­bil­i­tate it to en­sure food se­cu­rity.

Farm­ing of con­tam­i­nated arable land al­most the size of Bel­gium has been halted and the land will be re­ha­bil­i­tated to en­sure food se­cu­rity, a se­nior of­fi­cial said on Mon­day.

A soil sur­vey by the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion found that pol­lu­tion af­fects about 3.33 mil­lion hectares, Wang Shiyuan, vice-min­is­ter of land and re­sources, said.

“This find­ing is sim­i­lar to the ge­o­graph­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal sur­vey by the Min­istry of Land and Re­sources,” Wang added.

Arable land in China to­taled 135.4 mil­lion hectares at the end of last year, 15 mil­lion hectares more than the bot­tom line set by the gov­ern­ment to en­sure food se­cu­rity, Wang said at a news con­fer­ence, cit­ing the re­sults of the sec­ond na­tional land sur­vey re­leased on Mon­day.

How­ever, the amount of sta­ble cul­ti­vated land will drop to 120 mil­lion hectares, as some farm­land will be con­verted to forests, grass­lands and wet­lands, while pol­lu­tion will leave some land un­us­able, Wang said.

The en­vi­ron­ment min­istry ear­lier de­clined to dis­close data re­lated to soil pol­lu­tion, say­ing fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion is needed and that the fig­ure is a State se­cret.

A na­tion­wide sur­vey on soil pol­lu­tion was car­ried out be­tween 2006 and 2010, led by the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and the Min­istry of Land and Re­sources, but the re­sults were never made pub­lic.

Bai Cheng­shou, deputy head of the na­ture and ecol­ogy con­ser­va­tion depart­ment at the en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion min­istry, said re­sults will be pub­lished in fu­ture, with more data in­cluded.

“The cur­rent work is to take more sam­ples in key ar­eas with se­vere soil pol­lu­tion, so that the re­sults can be more ac­cu­rate and rep­re­sen­ta­tive,” he said.

Bai said a “soil pol­lu­tion ac­tion plan”, sim­i­lar to the Air­borne Pol­lu­tion Ac­tion Plan (2013-17) re­leased by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in midSeptem­ber, is be­ing pre­pared.

He said the plan, which will pro­vide a de­tailed frame­work for na­tional soil pol­lu­tion con­trol mea­sures be­fore 2017, is likely to be re­leased around June af­ter be­ing ap­proved by the State Coun­cil.

Wang said the swaths of pol­luted farm­land are con­cen­trated in de­vel­oped east­ern and cen­tral re­gions and in the north­east­ern in­dus­trial belt.

He sin­gled out Hu­nan prov­ince which, with its boom­ing heavy in­dus­tries, had re­peat­edly re­ported much higher lev­els of cad­mium found in rice than per­mit­ted by na­tional stan­dards.

An­swer­ing a China Daily ques­tion on whether the tainted land is still be­ing farmed, Wang said no fur­ther plant­ing will be al­lowed on it, as food safety is a top con­cern for gov­ern­ments at var­i­ous lev­els.

Each year, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment will ear­mark sev­eral bil­lion yuan to re­ha­bil­i­tate farm­land tainted by heavy met­als and threat­ened by the over-drain­ing of un­der­ground wa­ter, Wang said, with­out giv­ing de­tails.

“Only re­ha­bil­i­tated farm­land that has passed as­sess­ment will be used again,” he said.

Wu Xiao­qing, vice-min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, said in early De­cem­ber that the num­ber of en­ter­prises en­gaged in soil restora­tion ac­counted for only 3.7 per­cent of the 8,000 en­ter­prises in the en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vice in­dus­try, far be­low the ra­tio of com­pa­nies deal­ing with wa­ter and air pol­lu­tion con­trol.

Wang Qi, an ex­pert on solidwaste treat­ment, said, “This is prob­a­bly be­cause soil pol­lu­tion re­quires higher costs, some­times hun­dreds of times more than the cost of solv­ing air and wa­ter pol­lu­tion.”

Wang said he does not think there are any ef­fi­cient and quick so­lu­tions to soil pol­lu­tion, as the pop­u­lar method of us­ing plants to trap heavy met­als in the soil usu­ally takes more than a decade to work.

“One of the most prac­ti­ca­ble plans may be to re­place crops with other plants such as trees,” said Wang, head of the In­sti­tute of En­vi­ron­men­tal Engineering Tech­nol­ogy at the Chi­nese Re­search Academy of En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences.

Ren Tianzhi, di­rec­tor of the Agro-En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion In­sti­tute un­der the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, said that in ad­di­tion to heavy met­als from in­dus­try, ex­ces­sive use of pes­ti­cides and feed ad­di­tives also con­tam­i­nates farm­land.

“Sci­en­tists are work­ing to se­lect plant va­ri­eties re­sis­tant to heavy metal pol­lu­tion, to en­sure food safety,” he said.

Law­mak­ers have al­ready de­lib­er­ated on re­vi­sions to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Law, to ad­dress and rem­edy the soil pol­lu­tion prob­lem. The law was en­acted in 1989.

In Oc­to­ber, they pro­posed an amend­ment, re­quir­ing the State to set up a sys­tem cov­er­ing soil in­ves­ti­ga­tion, pol­lu­tion mon­i­tor­ing, eval­u­a­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

In ad­di­tion, the coun­try will leg­is­late the preven­tion of soil pol­lu­tion by the end of 2017, ac­cord­ing to a plan re­leased in Oc­to­ber by the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, the top leg­is­la­ture.

A cen­tral ru­ral work con­fer­ence, presided over by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping last week, vowed to im­prove food safety and im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment where agri­cul­tural prod­ucts are grown.

If farm­land or wa­ter is se­ri­ously pol­luted, such ar­eas should be taken out of use, a state­ment is­sued af­ter the con­fer­ence said.

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