08/01/2006, 00.00
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Beijing prepares nationwide environment monitoring system

The decision was taken after local authorities covered up an environmental disaster in Songhua River last year. Serious incidents and pollution are common in an industry that pays more attention to production than to the environment.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is creating a national system of environmental control. The aim is to prevent local authorities from covering up environmental disasters, as happened last year in the case of a spill in Songhua River.

The 11 monitoring centres, to be set up in major cities and near industrial facilities, will report directly to the national environmental agency and will be "freed from local government meddling," Xinhua agency said today.

The initiative follows a spill of toxic chemicals into Songhua River last year. The river runs through China and Russia and supplies water to millions of people. But for several days, the local authorities and environment executives did not reveal what had happened. When the news emerged, high-ranking leaders insisted that the silence had been opportune for reasons of public order, but public opinion and Russia did not agree and responded harshly.

Centres will be set up to watch for pollution accidents, to resolve environmental disputes and to supervise law enforcement in nature reserves and national forests: in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south, Xi'an and Chengdu in the west and Shenyang in the northeast. Another six centres will supervise security at civil and military nuclear facilities: in Shanghai and in unspecified locations in the provinces of Guangdong in the southeast and Sichuan in the west, as well as in the northern regions.

The onset of China's economic boom did not heed the environment or the safety of factories and plants, that often rose up near large inhabited areas and water flows. Accidents happen all the time. On 28 July, blasts went off in two chemical plants, in the Fuyuan Chemical Plant in Jiangsu province and in Shanghai, killing at least 12 people. The authorities excluded any risks of pollution but as a precaution, 7,000 people within a 2km radius of the blast were evacuated.

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