5 held in China for air quality data fraud

Xian officials said to have tampered with equipment to lower emission readings

SHANGHAI • Environmental protection officials in the north-western Chinese city of Xian have been detained after they were found to have tampered with air-quality monitoring equipment and falsified data, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

The Xian environmental protection bureau confirmed media reports that staff at a local monitoring station had stuffed sensors with cotton to lower emission readings and removed surveillance tapes to cover up their deception, the official news agency said.

Five officials are facing charges. It was not possible to determine their identity or to reach them.

Officials with the Xian bureau would not comment when contacted by Reuters.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said his ministry had already contacted the Xian bureau and was awaiting a response.

The country's new environmental protection law, which took effect at the start of last year, stipulates that parties guilty of falsifying data would be held equally responsible for pollution and punished accordingly.

Mr Dong Liansai, a campaigner with environmental group Greenpeace, said the news should serve as a warning that Beijing is serious about cracking down on environmental violations.

"The MEP must continue to investigate such cases of falsified readings and ensure that local governments fully implement central government policy," he said.

The MEP has long expressed concern about fraudulent behaviour by firms, including the misuse or misplacement of pollution sensors or the deletion of data.

In guidelines issued in June to crack down on fraud, the ministry said "administrative interference" in the monitoring process was on the rise.

And in a bulletin published on Tuesday, it said its latest inspections in Hebei province revealed that a polluting coking plant had sought to evade detection by tampering with emissions monitoring equipment.

Earlier this year, an MEP report accused firms in Hebei of routinely evading environmental rules and perpetrating fraud.

China's government has said it aims to create a comprehensive environmental monitoring system by 2030 in its efforts to boost citizens' health and raise life expectancy.

The State Council, or Cabinet, said it would set up the "strictest environmental protection system" to oversee construction, noise and air pollution, soil and water quality and the rural environment.

The new system would identify high-risk pollution zones and establish a unified disclosure platform for environmental information, the Cabinet said in its "Healthy China 2030" plan, which was published late on Tuesday.

It added that China aims to raise average life expectancy to 79 years by 2030, up from 76.3 years last year.

It also aims to strengthen public sanitation and provide clean drinking water.

Pollution has been identified as one of the biggest threats to public health in China.

Air pollution killed more than one million people in China in 2012 alone, the World Health Organisation said in a study published last month.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline '5 held in China for air quality data fraud'. Print Edition | Subscribe