In a move that seven years ago would have been seen as endangering the country’s economic lifeline, China is establishing a system to monitor and investigate the public health impacts of industrial pollution.
A policy document posted “for trial use” on China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) website “lays out which government offices will be responsible for the protection of human health from pollution and sets in motion a national investigation to assess the extent of the problem in China,” Climate Home News reports.
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The document has been years in the making, Climate Home notes. “Both China’s environmental protection law, revised in 2014, and a national health care blueprint released in 2016—Healthy China 2030—requested better management of health risks from pollution.”
But until now, said Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, there had been “no concrete programs to materialize such a principle.”
Up until last week’s posting on the MEP website, CHN writes, the official line was that environmental regulations would strangle industrial growth. “In 2011, a deputy environment minister told a press conference it was unrealistic for China to adopt health-based environmental standards, as the economic losses would be unbearable.”
But times have changed. The Chinese public has “paid a heavy price for decades of breakneck industrial expansion,” writes correspondent Li Jing. “Toxic chemicals have created “cancer villages”; heavy metals contaminate rice paddy fields,” and “China’s existing air quality standards for PM 2.5, the most harmful particulate pollutants, are three times higher than the safety limits recommended by the World Health Organization.”
Ma cautioned that the new policy document is not a magic bullet. “Limited coordination and data sharing between the health and environment ministries poses a challenge for the meaningful implementation of the newly-unveiled policy plan,” and there will also need to be public input. “The authorities need to make public their findings about the health risks,” he said, adding that “only by doing so can genuine changes be expected.”