02/26/2013, 00.00
CHINA
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Pollution, a 'state secret' in China

China's environmental watchdog refuses to release findings on soil pollution based on a five-year study involved samples from across the country. Legal and environmental experts slam the decision as irresponsible and dangerous.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - China's Ministry of Environmental Protection has rejected a request to publish findings of a high-profile national survey on soil pollution, citing "state secrecy".

Legal and environmental experts have called the Ministry of Environmental Protection's decision irresponsible, and said it put public health at risk, as contaminated land could jeopardise food safety and cause cancer or other health problems in people living on it.

"The ministry's claim is rather ill-founded, because the regulations on disclosure of government information actually allow for the release of so-called 'national secrets' if they involve public interests," said Beijing-based lawyer Dong Zhengwei.

Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, added that soil contamination might pose more risk than other forms of pollution because it was not as visible and people did not know how to take precautions against it.

"The government has a responsibility to warn the public about whether a piece of land is safe to grow crops or build a home," Ma explained.

The survey tested 200,000 samples of soil, ground water and farm produce nationwide, resulting in about 5 million pieces of data, the ministry said in 2011.

The ministry said in 2006 that more than 10 per cent of farmland on the mainland was polluted, and that about 12 million tonnes of grain was contaminated by heavy metals annually. Updated figures have not been released since then.

Environmental issues are important in China where rapid industrialisation and economic growth have occurred in parallel to unfettered pollution and disrespect for environmental protection. Increasingly, ordinary citizens want to government to do something about it.

So far, official steps have been haphazard, but things might be changing. The rise of the Communist Party's 'fifth generation' with the arrival of Xi Jinping has stirred some hope.

Recently, China's Health Ministry for the first time acknowledged in its official literature the existence of so-called 'cancer villages' located in the vicinity of highly polluting industrial plants.

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