China's environmental agency orders to clean up heavy polluters

Cracking down after a spate of toxic chemical spills, China's environmental agency has ordered 11 heavily polluting factories to clean up or face closure or fines, and is planning inspections of 127 big projects worth 450 billion yuan (US$56 billion; Ђ 47 billion).

In a notice reported Wednesday by state media, the State Environmental Protection Agency also named 10 road construction, power plant and other projects it said were put on hold for posing an environmental hazard.

The anti-pollution offensive reflects pressure from top leaders and the public for stronger action by the environmental watchdog against rampant violations of pollution controls that have ravaged China's environment during 25 years of breakneck industrialization.

Previous attempts by the environmental agency to crack down on big polluters have generally failed. Last year, the environment agency ordered the suspension of 30 big construction projects for alleged violations of conservation safeguards, but some were later reportedly allowed to continue.

But calls for stronger enforcement have mounted following a toxic spill from a chemical plant explosion in November into the Songhua River, the source of drinking water for tens of millions of people living in northeastern China and Russia.

In its list of companies facing closure or fines, the environmental agency included a chemical plant in northeastern China's Liaoning province that had polluted the drinking water supply for the city of Liaoyang, and a steel plant in the northern province of Hebei whose emissions had provoked "strong protests" from local residents.

The violations were found in checks on 78 companies following the Songhua River spill, it said.

It is now planning a second round of checks on 127 large chemical and petrochemical projects worth a total of 450 billion yuan in densely populated areas, nature reserves and along waterways, it said, reports the AP.

I.L.