06/28/2013, 00.00
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In China, black apples growing on trees. Government torpedoes new anti-pollution law

The country seems condemned to live in a blanket of industrial fumes: Hebei province hub for coal production has black apples growing on trees. In Qinghai Tibetan monks may have to leave tehir monastery because "they cannot even open their eyes." And the government torpedoes new law for the protection of the environment.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - After giving wide coverage to the new anti-pollution laws, which even provided  the death penalty for those who illegally dump industrial toxic discharges into the environment, the Chinese government has taken a giant leap backwards. The text of the new bill, in fact, states that "only the All-China Environment Federation [state-owned group under the control of the party ed] may present valid complaints against agents polluters".

The clause has angered national environmental groups, who are asking the government to rethink "a law that effectively cancels all efforts to protect the environment." Even some government officials have expressed doubts: Bie Tao, from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, says that "giving one organization the power to file complaints does not respond to the ecological needs of the nation."

The rate of pollution in the country is now at alarming levels. Every year in winter, industrial smoke darkens the sky making extraordinary preventive measures necessary, even in large cities. In Beijing for a hundred days the population were forced to stay at home to avoid exposure to the toxic cloud, and chemical discharges infest water sources and consequently the whole food chain.

In Zhangjiakou - known as "coal town" in the northern Hebei province - black apples have appeared on trees. The province is notorious for the presence of 7 of the 10 most polluted cities in the country: however the coal trade makes 17.2 billion Yuan every year, and this is enough to keep things as they are. A resident of Zhangjiakou says: "Presenting a complaint to the environmental authorities is equal to not submitting anything to anyone. They just don't care what happens."

Pollution has forced even a Tibetan abbot, lama Kumbumtenli, to seriously consider closing his monastery. The monk leads the Kumbum (the birthplace of the great Buddhist master Tsongkhapa and popular tourist destination), which is located near Huangzhong (Qinghai Province): Despite its being high above sea level, smog has made living in the area impossible.

The same monaco took some pictures (see photo), which were posted on Weibo, the popular Chinese micro-blogging site, and commented: " The air smells foul now in the morning when I wake up. I've got a headache, and feel like vomiting," he said. "I couldn't open my eyes or eat".  His monks feel the same way so much so he is considering leaving the monastery after 15 years.

A few kilometers from the place of worship there are several industries which, according to local residents, illegally pump toxic fumes into the air in the evening. In 2006, hundreds of children in the area were subjected to a blood test that detected lead levels up to 5 times higher than average. In 2010, an anonymous resident wrote to the provincial governor to denounce the pumping of sulfur dioxide ito  the air, but received no response.


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