China to enact its first soil pollution law

A man points to water and soil which turned red after being contaminated by industrial waste from a closed dye factory on Sept 15, 2014.
A man points to water and soil which turned red after being contaminated by industrial waste from a closed dye factory on Sept 15, 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

China's top legislative body will draft the country's first soil pollution law this year, as part of its efforts to protect the environment and address food safety concerns.

Mr Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People's Congress (NPC), said at a press conference yesterday that the Chinese government will continue to make environmental protection a priority, ensure that existing laws are effectively enforced and make legislative changes to combat pollution.

Such changes also include amending the law on solid waste pollution, Mr Zhang told reporters at the Great Hall of the People a day ahead of the NPC's annual meeting.

Mr Zhang said visible and notable progress had been made in addressing challenges to the environment.

Curbing pollution and keeping the environment clean are key tenets of Chinese President Xi Jinping's pledge to build a "moderately prosperous society" by 2020.

Mr Zhang said the NPC has worked to build a stringent legal framework to address pollution, and that in the past five years, it has enacted or modified six laws in areas including air and water pollution and wildlife protection.

"(We) will continue to work hard to provide strong legal support, and make sure that we will win the campaign against pollution," he said.

But soil pollution - usually caused by industrial activity, fertiliser and pesticide contamination, and improper toxic waste disposal - remains an area where stricter regulation is sorely needed.

Food safety concerns have been raised over reports of crops grown on contaminated soil. A 2013 survey showed about 3.33 million ha of Chinese farmland - about the size of Belgium - was considered too contaminated to grow crops, with estimated cleanup costs amounting to one trillion yuan (S$208 billion).

China aims to make around 90 per cent of contaminated farmland safe for crops by the end of 2020.

Mr Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told The Straits Times that China's development in the past 40 years has caused large quantities of pollutants to befoul its air, water and soil.

While laws have been enacted to address air and water pollution, soil pollution needs to be stringently controlled, he said. "This needs to be addressed at the source, because once soil is polluted, it is very costly and difficult to repair the damage."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2018, with the headline 'China to enact its first soil pollution law'. Print Edition | Subscribe