Caixin
Feb 02, 2018 07:02 PM
ENVIRONMENT

What Bad Air? Hunan Officials Use Mist Cannons to Fool Pollution Meters

A mist cannon is seen in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on Sept. 30. Two recent incidents in Hunan province in which mist cannons were used to lower pollution readings are the latest in a string of scandals in which environmental protection workers were caught using deceptive tactics to improve their performance appraisals. Photo: VCG
A mist cannon is seen in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on Sept. 30. Two recent incidents in Hunan province in which mist cannons were used to lower pollution readings are the latest in a string of scandals in which environmental protection workers were caught using deceptive tactics to improve their performance appraisals. Photo: VCG

Environmental protection workers in Central China’s Hunan province have used mist cannons to water down pollution readings in two separate cases recently.

The Shaoyang city government in late November deployed two anti-dust trucks to spray water vapor near two air quality monitoring stations while the city was hit by a bout of smog, according to a notice released by the provincial environmental watchdog earlier this week.

The trucks were procured for the purpose of driving around the city to fight dust pollution, particularly at construction sites. But the two drivers were spotted focusing their cleanup operations near the two air quality monitoring sites, Hunan’s Environmental Protection Department said.

The department didn’t say how it discovered the violations and the extent of the data tampering.

Separately, mist cannons were sent to carry out “anti-dust operations” near an air quality monitoring site on Baihe Mountain in Changde on two occasions on Jan. 15 in violation of rules regulating such sites, the provincial authority said, without elaborating.

The authority didn’t say how it will punish the violators in the two cases.

The two incidents are the latest in a string of scandals in which environmental protection workers were caught using deceptive tactics — include stuffing cotton padding into air quality monitoring devices to lower pollution readings — to improve their performance appraisals.

In June, seven officials and environmental protection workers in Xi’an, in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, were sentenced to over a year in prison for tampering with air quality monitoring equipment and falsifying readings using cotton padding.

Dust contributes to 10% to 20% of the concentration of PM2.5 in air in southern provinces, including Hunan, and the use of mist cannons to rain down pollutants at monitoring sites could significantly distort pollution readings and undermine government policies to curb pollution, according to Professor Peng Yingdeng at the Sate Research Center for Urban Environmental Pollution Control Engineering Technology.

Long-term exposure to PM2.5, a key air pollutant, could lead to a number of health problems, including lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

Although the central government has been cracking down on such violations, they are unlikely to go away unless they change the way officials’ performance is assessed, Peng said.

Regulators can draw inspiration from places where governments invite the public to rate officials’ work in preventing water pollution in addition to using water quality readings collected from monitoring sites, he said.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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