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Chinese firm punished for polluting desert

DATE:2015-03-30       SOURCE:Xinhua News Agency

LANZHOU, March 27 (Xinhua) -- "Tengger" means "sky" in Mongolian; however, the Tengger Desert is not as clear as its namesake, due to the negligence of companies that choose to dump their untreated waste.


A private enterprise in Wuwei City in the northwest province of Gansu was found to have dumped more than 80,000 tonnes of waste water in the desert.


Ronghua Industrial and Trade Company, a company with businesses ranging from agriculture, mineral products to medical service, was fined more than 3 million yuan (about 480,000 U.S. dollars) last week.


Two employees were detained, and its chairman and officials at local environmental protection departments are under investigation.


The company relocated near the desert to enable it to expand production in 2011. It began to produce corn starch and glutamic acid in 2014 but failed to install the equipment needed to prevent and control pollution.


The company secretly built pipes to dump the industrial waste water in the desert.


Preliminary investigation showed that Ronghua had discharged 83,715 tonnes of waste water through the pipes into areas below the desert between May 2014 to March 2015.


Images collected by unmanned aerial vehicle showed that the pollution has caused 23 sewage water pools in the desert. The polluted area covered 266 mu (about 18 hectares).


The majority of the waste water has been transported to treatment plants, while the remaining problems will be handled after the environmental impact assessment, said the city's publicity department.


This is not an isolated case. Companies in Gansu Province, in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region have been reported to have also dumped waste in the desert.


Last September, Mingsheng Dye Chemical Co. in Zhongwei City in Ningxia was shut down after it dumped waste water in the Tengger Desert. Media reports said the contamination threatened groundwater in the area.


Local governments and experts blamed desert pollution on lax supervision, covert factory locations and a lack of responsibility on behalf of the companies.


Ronghua's waste water dumping happened despite an ongoing provincial crackdown on desert pollution.


The incident revealed holes in supervision and inspection, said an official with the local environmental department, who also added that high-tech monitoring methods like unmanned aerial vehicles were needed to help supervision efforts.


In addition, half of Gansu's cities and prefectures border the desert. A vast territory with a sparse population as well as hidden pipes make it difficult to supervise enterprises, said Ma Jianmin, an environmental protection expert with Lanzhou University.


The revised Environmental Protection Law, which came into effect in January, brought with it heavier punishments. "But the law needs stronger enforcement," said Ma.


Compared with urban pollution, desert pollution, which is an important part of the ecosystem, is often ignored.


"A string of such cases have sounded the alarm," he said.

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