April 7, 2006

China punishes officials for lake pollution

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has punished eight officials for
polluting a chain of once thriving lakes near Beijing, pushing
a drive for greener growth, state media said on Friday.

The report came the day after a chemical factory blast near
a northeastern river, the scene of major toxic spill last year.

The Baiyangdian lakes, a two-hour drive south of Beijing,
made national headlines for their stinking water and a mass
death of fish this spring.

The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA)
concluded that a glut of paper mills and a lack of waste
treatment in nearby towns were largely to blame, the Communist
Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, said on Friday.

Seven local environment officials and town heads were
sacked or asked to resign for the "serious damage" that caused
losses of 9 million yuan ($1.1 million), while another official
was disciplined, the paper said.

On Thursday, two people were injured in an explosion at a
chemical plant on the Songhua River, which passes through
Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, the Beijing News
said on Friday.

It did not say if any chemicals flowed into the river. A
November blast at a petrochemical plant in neighboring Jilin
province poured 100 tonnes of a toxic benzene compound into the
river and forced taps in Harbin to be cut off for days.

Xie Zhenhua, the head of SEPA at the time, resigned after
the spill seeped into Russia, making it an international

China vowed last month to invest more than $1 billion over
the next five years to clean up the chronically polluted
Songhua, and SEPA this week ordered safety overhauls at 20
chemical and petrochemical plants located near rivers.

China's dazzling industrial growth has transformed a
poverty-stricken country into one of the world's top five
economies in less than three decades, but a cost has been
increasingly serious water and air pollution.

Beijing has now made balanced growth and greater respect
for the environment a key element of a five-year development
plan that was approved by parliament in early March.

($1=8.005 Yuan)