From: Joe McDonald, Associated Press
Published June 3, 2005 12:00 AM

China Reports More Cities Suffering Acid Rain, Rivers and Lakes Polluted

BEIJING — More of China's cities are suffering from acid rain and its major rivers and lakes are heavily polluted, the government said Thursday in a report that highlighted the environmental costs of surging economic growth.


Two-thirds of the nation's household sewage was untreated last year, while "heavy pollution" tainted some cities' air, said a report by the State Environmental Protection Agency, or SEPA.


Acid rain -- blamed on smoke from coal-burning factories and power plants -- is spreading, with the number of cities suffering from levels considered severe rising last year to 218, compared with 210 in 2003, the report said.


China's environment has been ravaged by two decades of breakneck growth, and by the pressure of feeding and housing a population of 1.3 billion. Official efforts to reduce pollution in recent years have had limited success.


"Rapid economic growth has intensified China's environmental problems," Wang Jirong, a deputy director of the environmental agency, said at a news conference. "All the problems that developed countries have seen over the past century, China has suffered in the past 20 years."


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Public anger at pollution damage to farmland, crops, drinking water and fishing grounds has become a volatile issue for the communist government.


In April, scores of people were injured when police clashed with villagers who occupied an industrial complex, which they said ruined their crops by polluting water supplies.


The government has forced polluting factories to close, and is spending heavily on switching its power generation from abundant but dirty coal to cleaner natural gas.


In Beijing, the government is pouring money into moving polluting industries out of the city in an effort to clean up the Chinese capital before the 2008 Summer Olympics.


But economic growth, projected to pass 9 percent this year, has fed soaring demand for power, causing shortages nationwide and forcing China to keep older coal-fired plants in service.


Conservation efforts also have been undercut by local authorities who resist shutting down paper mills, chemical plants and other polluting facilities for fear of losing jobs and tax revenue.


"Local governments and environmental protection bureaus in particular are insufficient in implementing and enforcing laws," said Wang Yuqing, another SEPA deputy director. "As a result, pollution from industry cannot be solved effectively."


Wang said public complaints to the agency about violations have been rising by 30 percent a year, which he said reflected both growing popular understanding of the law, and the scale of problems.


Wang Jirong, the other official, said regulators have recorded minor successes.


"The water quality in China has remained stable, and in selected regions the water quality is improving," she said. "I believe that is the limited progress we have achieved after years of effort."


Source: Associated Press


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