The first-ever national pollution census, environmentalists said, represented a small step forward for China in terms of transparency. But the results also raised serious questions about the shortcomings of China’s previous pollution data and suggested that even with limited progress in some areas, the country still had a long way to go to clean its waterways and air.Expect the Chinese government to hang its hopes on the findings that showed sulfur dioxide emissions lower than the previous government data suggested as a sign that the government could get these emissions under control.
The pollution census, scheduled to be repeated in 2020, took more than two years to complete. It involved 570,000 people, and included 1.1 billion pieces of data from nearly 6 million sources of pollution, including factories, farms, homes and pollution-treatment facilities, the government announced at a news conference.
But the comprehensiveness of the survey also resulted in stark discrepancies between some of the calculations and annual figures that the government has published in the past.
By far the biggest of these involved China’s total discharge of chemical oxygen demand — the main gauge of water pollution. These discharges totaled 30.3 million tons in 2007, the census showed.
In recent years the Ministry of Environmental Protection has done a much narrower calculation of these discharges, excluding agricultural effluents like fertilizers and pesticides as well as fluids leaking from landfills. By that narrower measure, discharges came to only 13.8 million tons in 2007, which officials described at the time as a decline of more than 3 percent from 2006 and a “turning point.”
The problem is that the pollution continues flowing unabated into China's rivers and waterways, which are used for commerce and for drinking water, despite the polluted nature of the waterways. Discharge of heavy metals into waterways continues unabated, and nitrogen emissions into waterways was far higher than previously believed. Those emissions are persistent and affect the ecology of the waterways and destroy fish habitat and make drinking the water dangerous.