Editor’s note: this article was translated and edited from a story that appeared on Wenxuecity.com. The article discusses the recent refusal by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection to publicize data it collected regarding soil pollution in the country.
The ministry investigated the issue from 2006-2010, spending approximately 1 billion RMB, though despite the best efforts of lawyers and environmentalists, Chinese citizens are still none the wiser regarding the severity of the situation.
On February 24, Beijing lawyer Dong Zhengwei told China’s Legal Daily that he’d finally received a notice from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, however it was disappointing news. After requesting that the Ministry of Environmental Protection publicize its national soil pollution data and investigative methods, he was informed that these were “state secrets”, which the authorities “refused to publish.”
In an interview with Legal Daily on the same day, Chairman of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, Ma Jun, stated that the response given by the Ministry of Environmental Protection is worth investigating. An environmentalist, Ma believes that the sharing of such information is a matter of public health, and shouldn’t be simply defined as “state secrets,” as it deprives the public of their right to know. Since 2006, both the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Ministry of Land and Resources have been conducting investigations on soil pollution, though neither have ever shared their findings with the public.
Government “afraid” to publicize relevant data
According to lawyer Dong Zhengwei, on January 30, 2013 he made two separate requests to the Ministry of Environmental Protection; one asking for the publication of soil pollution test data and the other for the publication of data regarding the causes and prevention of soil pollution. “This morning I got a reply. In all honesty, the Ministry of Environmental Protection replied pretty quickly and comprehensively. The response I received was 22 pages long.” Dong continued that this response was “one of the more detailed public paper responses” he’d received from the more than 20 different government bodies he’s contacted during the past few years.
In the letter to Dong, the Ministry in Environmental Protection reinforced its decision that this information was a “state secret”, citing article 14 of the government’s information disclosure regulations.
However, Dong believes that they simply wouldn’t dare release this information to the public. “In the past, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has told the media many times that the information regarding soil pollution would only be publicly released after it gained approval from the State Council. It looks as if the soil pollution situation is so serious that the authorities are simply afraid to release the relevant data.”
Dong believes that this information concerns the health and well being of every citizen as well as the environment, and that the Ministry of Environment is simply using the “state secret” tag as an excuse not to release the information.
Data release may cause “social unrest”
Ma Jun told the Legal Daily that despite the soil pollution data being a sensitive issue, he doesn’t agree with the methods of the authorities.
“Not only will the pollution cause direct health damage, it can also enter into food, as the pollution seeps into crops. This will have a highly adverse affect on people’s health, and is something that the public has a right to know about.”
Ma Jun said that soil pollution is a much more pressing and potentially harmful issues than that of pollution present in air, water and garbage, and without the correct information, the public will be unable to fully comprehend the dangers of soil pollution.
Given the situation, Ma believes that the Ministry of Environmental Protection should truly prioritize the sharing of such data with the general public. However Ma doesn’t deny the sensitivity involved with the issue, and is aware that full exposure of the severity of the situation could cause social unrest.
“China has never fully publicized information regarding many types of pollution, and is aware that releasing such information to the public will anger many.” Ma also believes that the inaccuracy and incompleteness of the data may be another reason why the authorities are refusing to share the data, though this still doesn’t make for a valid reason.
Ma thinks that in order to avoid social unrest, the Ministry of Environmental Protection should first inform the public that it will take effective measures to deal with the soil pollution, and that after three to five years it will release more detailed information. In light of the recent widespread coverage of the PM 2.5 air pollution issue, Ma Jun believes that similar approaches to the severity of soil pollution should be made rather than simply evading the problem.
1 billion RMB invested in soil pollution investigations
“In order to obtain a comprehensive, systematic, and accurate grasp of the levels of soil pollution as well as discover methods of prevention and control of the issue and ensure the health of the populace, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Ministry of Land and Resources have invested 1 billion RMB in an inaugural investigation.” This was the statement given by the authorities in 2006.
Dong’s message on February 24 also mentioned this investigation, which reportedly ran between 2006 and 2010. On January 23 2013, the State Affairs released a statement that mentioned the “comprehensive management of the work regarding the protection of the environment,” however it mentioned nothing about the findings of the investigation. To the public, the detail and severity of soil pollution in China is still a mystery.
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Keywords: China soil pollution
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"the publics right to know' In China! Authorities [ communist [?] party], fear "social unrest"! If the public were told about soil pollution they might put together, water , air sea and food pollution and figure out that they were like mushrooms with the party keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit. Always remember the communist[?] party's main aim is to stay in power so be careful Ma! Small point. Why does the security code never work the first time?
Mar 04, 2013 08:51 Report Abuse