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China Sees Rise in Sulfur Dioxide Pollution, Worsening Acid Rain


China says its sulfur dioxide emissions are getting worse, and as a result some areas suffer from more acid rain. Rising sulfur dioxide emissions are costing the country $65 billion a year.

China's environmental protection administration says sulfur-dioxide emissions from burning coal rose by 27 percent from 2000 to 2005, to more than 25 million tons, the highest in the world.

Agency officials said acid rain caused by sulfur dioxide has become more severe, mainly in China's industrialized east coast.

Li Xinmin, deputy director general of the Department of Pollution Control for China's environmental watchdog, says more than half of the cities monitored experienced acid rain, and a few had nothing but acid rain.

"Acid rain control areas are not extending, they are stable. But, the severity of acid rain in this region may increase," he said. "And, some places in acid rain control regions may witness more frequency of acid rain."

Li says each ton of sulfur dioxide in the air causes about $2,500 in economic losses from damage to crops, buildings and public health. Last year, when more than 25 million tons were discharged, the annual bill topped $63 billion.

Coal accounts for 70 percent of China's energy needs and is the major source of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and soot pollution.

Most of the country's power plants are antiquated and lack equipment to reduce pollution. In addition, the bulk of the country's automobiles use diesel or other high-pollution fuels. As a result, air pollution blankets most of China.

On Thursday, the environmental protection administration said efforts to improve air quality are paying off, with more cities seeing cleaner air.

The agency says in 2005 more than half of cities being monitored met clean air standards, an increase of nearly 13 percent from 2001. But agency officials did not say which cities had improved or how the improvements were measured.

Environmental experts in other countries say China's pollution has been found to have spread as far as the western coast of the United States.

But Li with the Department of Pollution Control cast doubt on those claims, saying some U.S. media reports sensationalize the issue and are not very objective.

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