Beijing (AFP) Aug 04, 2007
China's booming economy is wreaking havoc on the nation's coastal waters, with sewers often spilling right into parts of the sea reserved for tourism or aqua-farming, state media said Saturday. This is the conclusion of a new survey of China's coastal environment over the first six months of the year, published by the State Oceanic Administration, the China Daily reported. According to the survey, 77 percent of 500 pollution outlets monitored by the administration discharge more pollutants than permitted, an 18 percent increase from the first half of 2006.
Forty-two percent of the outlets monitored went into sea fishery farms, often carrying pollutants such as phosphate, ammonia and nitrogen, according to the paper.
However, the paper took pains to emphasise that "it did not pose a threat to seafood security."
A series of high-profile cases involving shoddy or dangerous Chinese exports has raised global concerns about the safety of products made in the country.
The State Oceanic Administration said the report could actually underplay the extent of the problems, although it admitted it did not know for sure.
"The surveillance is incomplete, in that it is not real-time, so the de facto seawater quality might be even worse than what the report says," said Li Xiaoming, director of the administration's environmental protection unit.
Disagreements cloud Hong Kong's blue skies
Official figures show the number of low-pollution days between May and July is up more than 70 percent on 2006, with air quality better than at any time since 1999.
The conditions are in stark contrast with Beijing, where a thick blanket of haze has at times reduced visibility to just a few hundred metres (yards) in recent weeks.
The Hong Kong government believes it should get the credit for the transformation, citing the efforts it has made to reduce air pollution levels in the city.
"Apart from the weather factor, the measures implemented over the past years have also had a positive impact on our air quality," said a spokeswoman at the Environmental Protection Department.
Hong Kong authorities have introduced a series of measures to combat pollution, which business groups warn is deterring investment and tourism and making expatriates think twice about coming here.
Diesel taxis and mini-buses are being replaced with vehicles that run on cleaner liquefied petroleum gas, and the government has tightened emissions caps on power plants.
But environmentalists say emission reduction targets are too low, and air pollution figures are not telling the real story because the danger limits are set much higher than those of the World Health Organisation.
They believe it was too early for the government to claim it has beaten the smog.
Alexis Lau, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Science and Technology, attributed the improved air quality to the stable winds and lack of typhoons in the region. Typhoons are common in Hong Kong at this time of year.
"The wind is much more steady this summer," he said, adding that the approach of a typhoon often makes the air more stagnant, reducing the dispersal of pollutants.
Edwin Lau, assistant director of Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, also said recent weather conditions were the likely reason for the clear skies.
"The prevailing wind effect is a major factor for the clear days because (when) the wind blows to the north, the bad air from the China factories doesn't come this way," he said.
"The government shouldn't reach this conclusion so quickly. If this situation lasts until spring and autumn, the government can then boast about their strategies," he added.
Hong Kong's skies are generally clearer in summer than in winter, as the oceanic air stream blowing from the south brings cleaner air and disperses pollutants.
On the mainland, it is a different story -- Beijing suffered its worst air pollution for June in seven years and many residents of the city said pollution was the worst in recent memory.
The growing problem is blamed on the staggering growth in the number of cars in the Chinese capital -- 1,200 vehicles are added daily. And the forced closure of the city's most polluting factories has not proved enough to solve the problem.
The Hong Kong government has been quick to blame the mainland for the city's pollution woes, attributing them to emissions produced by factories in the neighbouring Pearl River Delta region of southern China, many of them Hong Kong-owned.
But local academics and environmentalists dispute this, blaming local vehicles, marine traffic and power plants.
Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang has said tackling pollution will be one of his top priorities, and Edwin Lau looks forward to the days when clear blue days are a more frequent sight.
"The clean sky reminds me of the Hong Kong I remember 20 years ago. You can look miles into the distance, you can see the shape of the mountains. Hong Kong can be such a beautiful place," he said.
"The government has the responsibility to keep the skies clean, put in the right strategies, keep up their efforts and don't be complacent."
Source: Agence France-Presse
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