China determined to clean up 90% of polluted arable land by 2020

China aims to make 90 percent of the country's contaminated arable land safe to use by 2020 as the country deals with heavy metals, a lack of funding and loose supervision.

The State Council, China's cabinet, said in a soil pollution prevention and control action plan published on Tuesday that over 90 percent of the contaminated land will be utilized safely by 2020 and reach 95 percent by 2030.

According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources, about 16.1 percent of China's surveyed land is polluted by heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury.

Soil pollution is severe in three major industrial regions - the old industrial area in Northeast China, East China's Yangtze River Delta and South China's Pearl River Delta - and some regions in China have suffered deteriorating soil quality due to exposure to extensive industrial development and toxic emissions, said a 2014 report from the two ministries.

In addition, 19.4 percent of surveyed arable land had pollution levels higher than the national standard, according to Environmental Protection Minister Chen Jining. That means about 3.33 million hectares of arable land are not suitable for growing crops.

Sheng Guangyao, a research fellow at the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Science, told the Global Times that the regulation reflects the country's determination to curb soil pollution and the goal can be reached if the central government provides enough financial support and establishes a related law as soon as possible.

Last year, the central government allocated 2.8 billion yuan ($430 million) for anti-pollution projects in 30 prefecture-level cities, but experts claim it was far from enough.

"Even with cheap restoration methods, it would take 300,000 yuan per hectare of land polluted by heavy metals, which means at least 6 trillion yuan is needed," Lan Hong, an environment professor at the Renmin University of China, told the Xinhua News Agency.

Sheng pointed out that the country should offer different solutions to curb soil pollution.

However, Zhu Shouxian, another research fellow at the institute, said that "soil pollution is a very complicated problem involving agriculture and industry."

Zhu said that "the contaminated land cannot be recovered within 10 years. It is not only a matter of curbing pollution."

Zhu added research he had conducted in rural areas in Northwest China's Gansu Province also shows that local farmers irrigated their farmland with water from a polluted river.

Last month, various media outlets reported an alleged link between soil pollution and students' health in Jiangsu Province.

Blood samples taken from students at Changzhou Foreign Languages School reportedly showed abnormal readings after the children moved to the school's new campus near the former site of several chemical plants. Authorities said they suspect the abnormalities have something to do with soil contamination, according to Xinhua.

 

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