News / Asia

    China Reaffirms Record Pollution Penalty

    People wear protective masks near the Bund in Shanghai, Jan. 19, 2016. Environmentalists have warned that dirty water is a greater problem than dirty air, and China's top court reaffirmed a record fine on six firms for polluting.
    People wear protective masks near the Bund in Shanghai, Jan. 19, 2016. Environmentalists have warned that dirty water is a greater problem than dirty air, and China's top court reaffirmed a record fine on six firms for polluting.

    China's top court last week upheld an earlier ruling to impose a record-high penalty of 160 million yuan (US$26 million) on six companies from the city of Taizhou in eastern Jiangsu province for discharging waste acids into two rivers.

    Although the court’s decision set an unprecedented example for businesses in China to better manage industrial waste, it only marks the beginning of the country’s uphill battle against its massive water pollution crisis, analysts say.

    “This is not gonna improve overnight. There’s been a lot of mechanism and rules that have been building over the past decade,” said Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environmental Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

    The water pollution action plan, announced by the State Council in April 2014, "gives the political green light" for enforcement by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, she added.

    Verdict upheld

    The Supreme Court upheld the case's initial verdict, arguing that all six defendants remained responsible after they sold more than 25,000 metric tons of waste acid in 2014 to a leather company, which didn’t have the authority to discharge the waste into the rivers.

    The case drew the highest compensation fine ever imposed in China arising from a public interest case, and showcased the judicial system’s role in environmental protection, analysts said.

    "This case has a powerful deterrence effect on polluting businesses…. That is, polluters have to now take their environmental cost into consideration," said Maple Ge, director of the law and policy department at Friends of Nature, a registered environmental nongovernmental organization.

    Calculating costs

    But given that compliance and law enforcement are expensive and evasion is still the cheapest route, it remains to be seen whether all businesses will get in line or will adopt a bust-me-if-you-can attitude, said Wang Jin, a law professor of Peking University.

    Nevertheless, Wang said the ruling was significant because it reaffirmed the long-lasting impact of pollution on the environment even if no immediate damage is in sight.

    The court determined the penalty by using a simulation model to calculate the cost of cleaning up the rivers, Wang said.

    In spite of the record penalty, the lawsuit only exposes the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the water pollution crisis facing China. Many environmentalists have warned that dirty water is a bigger headache than China's notoriously dirty air.

    Dirty water

    Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based NGO Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, once said that China’s wastewater discharge has far exceeded the capacity the environment can handle and that water pollution poses a bigger health threat to about 300 million people living in rural areas.

    The latest available official data also shows that 60 percent of groundwater and 36 percent of rivers were ranked as poor or very poor in 2014.

    Estimates by the Wilson Center show the water quality crisis in China may be even worse than suggested by the official data.  

    "It’s hard to know exactly, ’cause data is often a little bit sketchy in China in terms of pollution. But we estimate something like 35 percent of China’s water is so polluted, it should not come in contact with humans," Turner said. She added that China is the only country threatened by water pollution-induced scarcity.

    According to the center, agricultural runoff is the biggest source of lake pollution in China, as a result of overused pesticides and fertilizers. Up to 80 percent of the nation’s meat factories have failed to treat their animal wastewater.  

    Hopeful signs

    Encouraging signs have emerged since mid-2015, after authorities stepped up efforts to tackle the water crisis. But the recent economic slowdown has some wondering if local governments will follow through with toughened measures to clean up messes left behind by decades of unregulated rapid growth.

    "With a slowing economy, we are not sure how local governments or divisions in charge of economic affairs weigh the importance of environmental protection, and this has a direct impact on the strength of the law enforcement," said Wang.

    You May Like

    Video Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    Iran Orders Social Media Sites to Store Data Inside Country

    New requirements are expected to affect the instant messaging app Telegram, which has more than 20 million users inside Iran

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Ricardo from: Brazil
    January 26, 2016 10:44 AM
    The lack of a responsible environmental policy affects all poor countries. Brazil has one of the highest rates of drinking water pollution in the world, and nothing is being done to reverse this situation.

    The vast majority of rivers in Brazil are totally polluted, the same applies to fruits, vegetables, cattle, chicken, etc. Pollution also affects several bottle waters, making the problem worse.

    It is necessary to apply economic sanctions against irresponsible countries. After all, a contaminated river in Brazil might contaminates the ocean and, consequently, may end up contaminating the production lobsters from Maine.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora