The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) carried out an environmental risk assessment for over 7,500 chemical and petro-chemical installations and concluded that 45% of them were a serious threat.

The vast majority of the plants considered – 81% of them – were located on a river or lake or in a densely-populated area.

The state-controlled Xinhua news agency reported the deputy director of SEPA, Pan Yue, as saying: “Such geographical distribution poses grave environmental risks. It’s the fundamental reason behind soaring water pollution accidents since last year.

“Unless effective risk prevention measures are taken, it would be impossible to check the trend of surging environmental accidents.”

The study was carried out in the wake of the Sonhua River disaster last year, where tonnes of benzene and other pollutants contaminated the waterway after an explosion at a chemical plant (see related story).

SEPA had ordered 3,745 of the plants reviewed to step up safety and 49 to relocate and US$1.8 billion has been allocated to introduce measures to reduce the risk of environmental damage at the plants.

Between January to April this year, SEPA received reports of 49 major pollution incidents, 13 of which its classified as serious.

Just last Sunday, July 9, a chlorine leak from a plant in the northern province of Ningxia poisoned a large number of residents and more than 160 were hospitalised.

Pan said that while investment would go some way to reduce the risks, there needed to be legislative changes if the environment was to be properly protected “Otherwise, environmental accidents will continue to occur and public environmental safety cannot be guaranteed.”

His colleague Zhu Guangyao, also a deputy director at SEPA, recently warned that environmental pollution could put the brakes on China’s rapid economic growth, with damage caused and the subsequent remediation likely to cost a staggering 10% of the country’s GDP.

The government has promised to strengthen environmental protection and solve major problems this year to “safeguard interests of the people and maintain social harmony and stability.”

A priority of the job is to guarantee safety of drinking water.

Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie