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Chinese Official Warns of Worsening Environmental Conditions

Officials from China's top environmental watchdog have told the state news agency some of the country's most polluted rivers and lakes are not getting any cleaner. VOA's Joseph Popiolkowski reports from Hong Kong.

The quarterly report by China's chief environmental regulation agency delivers a sobering warning, the quality of most of its cities' air and water has declined since the beginning of the year.

China has been not been able to successfully balance the integrity of its environment with heavy industrialization driven by record-breaking economic growth.

In light of the report's findings, a key Chinese official on environmental policy was quoted by the state news agency Tuesday as calling for impact studies for all future projects.

Wen Bo, China Program Director for the U.S.-based activist group Pacific Environment, agrees the situation is serious, and wants to see companies penalized for harming the environment.

"They are conducting a crime," he said. "They are conducting a serious crime, although they didn't kill individual persons directly. But by massively polluting the environment they are killing a whole lot of people. So they should really make environmental pollution a criminal charge."

State media last week quoted officials as saying that worsening water and air pollution was partly to blame for making cancer the top killer in China last year.

Wen also wants Chinese people to become more aware of the increasingly diseased environments outside their cities and take action.

"Everybody can do their part. Everybody can do their share," he added. "Teachers can teach that in school. Consumers can pressure the markets by what kind of products they choose."

The government's latest report said the quality of drinking water in most cities has declined significantly since the beginning of the year.

The government has made environmental protection a priority but has so far failed to meet any of its own targets for cutting pollution and improving energy efficiency. As the environment worsens, economic growth rates continue to soar, more than eleven percent so far this year.