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ENVIRONMENT

By Teng Jing Xuan / May 20, 2019 10:46 AM / Environment

The Xiangshui explosion left a crater measuring 100 meters in diameter. When Caixin reporters visited the site at the end of April, the crater was still filled with a pungent mix of black, green and red liquids.Photo: Yang Rui/Caixin

The Xiangshui explosion left a crater measuring 100 meters in diameter. When Caixin reporters visited the site at the end of April, the crater was still filled with a pungent mix of black, green and red liquids.Photo: Yang Rui/Caixin

Ironically, the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemicals factory was about to undergo a safety inspection the day an explosion destroyed the fertilizer and pesticide plant.

County inspectors had gathered in the compound in eastern China’s Jiangsu province. The heaviest-polluting workshops had been shut down by workers who had been tipped off about the upcoming inspection, and rainwater drains usually used for secretly dumping liquid waste had been scrubbed.

Then, at around 2:30 p.m. an explosion ripped through the compound, killing at least 78 people and leaving a 100 meter crater.

Read our in-depth look into the toxic mix of safety violations and cost-cutting that led to the deadly March 21 explosion.

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ENVIRONMENT

By Zhao Runhua and Chen Shuning / May 16, 2019 02:33 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

First it was swine fever — now Chinese farmers are racing to fight outbreaks of an invasive insect pest called the “Fall Armyworm” that threatens their crops.

Signaling the danger posed by the innocuous-looking grub to China’s corn, cotton and soybean industries, a major pest prevention center under the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MOA) on Tuesday warned of a "visible increase" in the pace of the invasion, and urged farmers to “grab crops from the mouth of the pest.”

The insects were first detected on the Chinese mainland in January in the southwestern border province of Yunnan. They are believed to have passed from Southeast Asia into China, where they have ravaged around 1,080,000 mu (720 square kilometers) of farmland in 13 provincial-level regions.

Those figures, from the MOA unit, are far higher than the 127,000 mu figure given in a U.S. government report last week.

The pest, which is most active in southern China, is expected to spread north as corn grows and temperatures increase into the summer. There are concerns the insects will take root in China and reproduce, the MOA unit’s notice said.

The government has established an emergency response.

Related: China OKs Imports of More Genetically Modified Crops

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By Chen Shuning and Ren Qiuyu / May 13, 2019 03:14 PM / Environment

Photo: Ministry of Ecology and Environment

Photo: Ministry of Ecology and Environment

Environmental officials are returning to problematic areas in parts of the country to check if violations have been “rectified,” and the results for Shandong province, at least, aren’t good.

In 2017, in a first round of inspections, a number of chemical engineering projects in Shandong were found to be in violation of regulations and were required to immediately suspend production and dispose of the chemicals.

So-called “look back” inspections took place last November, and the results have just been released. Many of the projects that were initially found to be in violation had indeed been punished, the report found, but the issues were not resolved, or once the rectification processes began, they swerved off course or became less effective.

The latest inspection in Shandong also found that Dongping County had failed to stop illegal sand mining in a wetland nature reserve, and that the Weitan River remained polluted, with sewage overflows and chemical waste stored near the river. Tests found that the water quality was the worst on the measurable scale.

Overall, the report shows that four central government-led environment inspection groups returned to Anhui, Guizhou, Shandong, Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, and Shanxi provinces in November.

Read all of Caixin's environmental coverage

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By Zhou Tailai and Zhao Runhua / Apr 23, 2019 06:05 PM / Environment

Photo: IC

Photo: IC

Government officials in the city of Wanning have been punished for a land-reclamation project that damaged the local environment, the provincial government in China’s island province of Hainan announced Monday.

In 2015, Wanning’s municipal government allowed for a piece of coastal land originally designated for tourism to make way for residential real estate projects. The provincial government statement did not specify any real estate developments in particular.

Top local officials Zhang Meiwen, Wanning’s Communist Party Secretary, and mayor Zhou Gaoming have been given “significant demerit points,” a typical punishment for Chinese public servants that prohibits them from any promotions or pay increases for the following 18 months.

Other officials involved in the case, including those from local marine and fishery departments, have been given punishments ranging from warnings to being removed from posts.

Related: As China Builds More on the Sea, Nature’s Beauty Gets Buried

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By Fran Wang / Apr 23, 2019 12:55 PM / Environment

Photo: IC

Photo: IC

China has lifted a ban on the transport of pigs and pork in and out of a total of 23 provinces after African swine fever outbreaks in those areas eased, a senior agricultural ministry official said Tuesday.

The resumed production and transportation of live pigs in the regions are “picking up,” Wei Baigang, head of the Department of Development Planning of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, told reporters at a press conference.

China reported the first outbreak of the deadly pig disease in last August, and a total of 1.02 million pigs have been culled nationwide since then, Wang Junxun, a deputy chief of the ministry’s Veterinary Bureau, said at the briefing.

Both Wei and Wang warned that pork prices may spike in the second half of this year due to tight supply, fueling consumer inflation.

“Affected by the African swine fever outbreaks, large-scale pig farms are cautious about increasing the number of pigs they raise while small, individual farmers are withdrawing (from the sector) at a faster pace than before,” Wei said, adding that the year-on-year fall in the number of both live pigs and fertile sows has exceeded 10% for three straight months.

“We expect pork supply to go tight in the second half of the year and its prices to go up sharply, as the piglet rearing cycle is typically six months,” he said.

Related: More Pigs Die in China’s Last Mainland Province to Get Swine Fever

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By Tang Ziyi / Apr 22, 2019 12:39 PM / Environment

Photo: IC

Photo: IC

The island province of Hainan had been the last holdout in the Chinese mainland of the devastating spread of African swine fever — which has resulted in the death or culling of over a million pigs nationwide.

But following the spread of the disease there last week, reports have now emerged of additional deaths in Hainan, with another 146 pigs dying in recent days, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Sunday.

The epidemic, which is fatal to pigs but does not affect humans, was first observed in August in Northeast China's Liaoning province and began to spread rapidly across the country, wreaking havoc on China’s most important supply of meat. Pork prices might increase by over 70% year-on-year in the second half of 2018, according to a Ministry spokesperson at a press conference last week.

Related: Lack of Recompense Could Leave Pig Farmers Struggling After Swine Fever

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By Tang Ziyi / Apr 15, 2019 05:28 PM / Environment

Photo: Caixin

Photo: Caixin

Seventeen more people have been implicated in last month’s deadly chemical explosion in east China, bringing the total number to 26.

The March 21 explosion at an industrial park in Jiangsu province’s Xiangshui county killed 78 and injured hundreds. It produced an enormous fireball and registered as a 2.2 magnitude earthquake.

Most detainees are from the firm at the center of the explosion, Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemicals, as well as an intermediate agency, police said.

For first-hand details of the massive blast and its aftermath, read our “Reporter’s Notebook: Xiangshui Blast Leaves Wounds and Scars That Won’t Fade

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By Ge Shurun, Ma Danmeng and Teng Jing Xuan / Apr 10, 2019 12:58 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

At least 18 people in China are known to have been infected in recent years with Candida auris, a species of fungus that has shown resistance to multiple fungicides, experts have told Caixin.

The first known person with the infection was a 76-year-old patient who had previously suffered from high blood pressure and kidney damage. The case was confirmed by Peking University and Chinese Academy of Science researchers, Hu Bijie, director of infectious disease management at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital, said.

C. auris, which can cause deadly bloodstream and wound infections in people with weakened immune systems, is often resistant to common antifungal drugs, and is described as a “serious global health threat” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The fungus is likely thriving due to overuse of antifungals in agriculture, although little is known about its origins and hospitals around the world are reluctant to draw attention to outbreaks of C. auris for fear of scaring patients away, the New York Times reported Saturday.

The actual number of Candida auris infections in China may be greater than the few cases that have been confirmed, because it’s easily mistaken for other fungal infections, according to a paper by researchers from the First Hospital of China Medical University.

Related: Ill-Equipped Hospitals Delay Treatment of Rare Brain Disease

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Zhao Runhua / Apr 08, 2019 05:55 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

China has reported the first case of African swine fever in the Tibet Autonomous Region, according to a government statement released on Sunday.

Authorities have confirmed the deaths of 55 pigs in southeast Tibet’s Linzhi (also known as Nyingchi) city, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said.

The ministry has sent a team to the site to contain the disease. The area is also now blocking imports of live pigs, as well as the exports of both live pigs and pork products, the ministry said.

China reported its first outbreak of African swine fever in August 2018. Since then, the disease has wreaked havoc on pig farms across the country, and over one million pigs have been culled.

Related: In-Depth: Swine Fever Turns Dream of Chinese-Danish Star Pig Farm Into a Nightmare

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By Ren Qiuyu / Apr 06, 2019 02:30 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Officials have confirmed that the forest fire in Sichuan province that killed 30 firefighters last weekend was caused by lightning, Xinhua News reported.

The local Liangshan Forest Public Security Bureau received an alert at 6 p.m. on March 30 from a witness who said that a forest fire had started after a lightning strike, a provincial official told Xinhua.

An official investigation has found evidence that the upper part of one tree had been struck by lightning. The tree then split in two while the lightning was transmitted into the ground through the trunk, setting fire to surrounding shrubs and moss, the director of the Liangshan Forest Public Security Bureau said.

Related: Survivors Recount Escape From Deadly Sichuan Firestorm

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By Tanner Brown / Apr 02, 2019 11:24 AM / Environment

Before-and-after photos of the site of the Xiongan Railway Station on the Beijing-Xiongan intercity railway in Baoding, Hebei. Photo: IC

Before-and-after photos of the site of the Xiongan Railway Station on the Beijing-Xiongan intercity railway in Baoding, Hebei. Photo: IC

Xiongan, a new economic zone just south of Beijing in Hebei province, was announced in April 2017 as a place to catalyze the development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, while also easing some of the capital’s metropolitan burdens.

Progress has been slow but steady. Basic infrastructure has been built that planners hope will facilitate the development of north China’s so-called Jing-Jin-Ji region.

Here are some pics from Xiongan’s second birthday.

Related: Beijing Regional Integration Is Lagging Behind Peers

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By Tang Ziyi / Mar 27, 2019 07:41 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Direct government support continues to dwindle for China's new-energy auto industry.

The Ministry of Finance is slashing subsidies for some electric vehicle makers, while raising requirements for companies hoping to receive the handouts.

The ministry announced Tuesday that it would halve the subsidy for electric cars with a range of at least 400 kilometers to 25,000 yuan ($3,720.07) per vehicle, down from 50,000 yuan.

The ministry also said vehicles must now have a range of at least 250 kilometers to be eligible for subsidies, up from the previous 150 kilometers.

The announcement is part of a government plan to phase out subsidies altogether by 2020.

Related: Fraudster Posing as BYD Executive Leaves $164 Million Money Trail

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By Tanner Brown / Mar 25, 2019 11:40 AM / Environment

Government officials and Danish executives gathered for the opening of the Eurasian pig farm in 2017. Photo: DFD

Government officials and Danish executives gathered for the opening of the Eurasian pig farm in 2017. Photo: DFD

The hinterlands of China’s Heilongjiang province was the ideal place for raising pigs in China. Experts compared its geographic and ecological conditions to “just like the Midwest of the U.S.”

China even partnered with a Danish group to introduce advanced pig-raising technology and farm management practices to China. Investors backed by the Chinese government joined with Denmark’s sovereign wealth fund in the project.

But the dream has turned into a ghastly nightmare. China’s outbreak of African swine fever has led to the annihilation of all 73,000 pigs on the partnership’s Eurasian pig farm. Investors have been left with losses of $15 million.

What went wrong? 

Read this week’s cover story to get the full picture.


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By Yang Rui and Teng Jing Xuan / Mar 15, 2019 07:34 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

China’s environment ministry has issued a ban on the pesticides lindane and endosulfan, substances known to pose health risks to humans.

The decision, made jointly with 10 other government departments and published this week, is intended to improve China’s compliance with the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty on pollutants. China formally joined the Stockholm Convention in 2004.

Lindane and endosulfan, which are frequently used to treat crops and parasites on humans and animals, are classified under the Stockholm Convention as “persistent organic pollutants” (POPs) that stay in the environment for an exceptionally long time.

China is also restricting the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and similar substance perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which used to be the main ingredient of 3M’s fabric treatment Scotchgard. These two substances are also considered POPs under the Stockholm Convention, and may now only be used in the limited number of applications allowed by the convention, including airplane hydraulic fluid and photo imaging.

After the U.S. and Europe began restricting the use of PFOA and PFOS in the early 2000s, production of the compounds shifted to Asia, while the compounds themselves have been detected at high levels in soil and rivers in parts of China, multiple researchers told Caixin last year.

The ban takes effect on March 26.

Related: Tackling China’s Soil Pollution May Be Harder Than Fighting PM2.5

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By Zhao Runhua / Mar 14, 2019 11:37 AM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Slowly but surely, Hainan is getting rid of fossil fuel cars. And it’s beginning with government vehicles.

The tropical island province had been discussing the move since last year.

Now, a formal proposal has passed to start phasing out fossil-fuel cars used by government and Communist Party departments, local newspaper Hainan Daily reported.

Starting from this year, such agencies can only select new energy vehicles when purchasing new cars or replacing existing ones. This does not include vehicles used for special purposes that have no clean-energy alternatives, the proposal explained.

By 2020, at least 10% of the total vehicles owned by government and Party departments should be new energy models. The figure should reach 70% in 2025, and 100% by 2028.

The province said it will ban selling fossil-fuel vehicles to all residents in 2030.

Related: Quick Take: Hainan Wants Fossil-Fuel Cars to Go the Way of Dinosaurs

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By Olivia Ryan / Mar 12, 2019 05:46 PM / Environment

Xingtai, Hebei. Photo: VCG

Xingtai, Hebei. Photo: VCG

Beijing and Tianjin may run into problems with their water supply in the future, warned one CPPCC delegate at this week's annual meeting. 

The South-to-North Water Diversion project has provided northern cities with additional water since the early 2014, but Beijing has become over-reliant on good-quality water from the south. There is also an increasing need and demand for water in the receiving areas. 

A chief engineer and professor, Zhong Zhiyu, also warned that it is hard to guarantee the supply of water, as the Danjiangkou Reservoir in central China may experience drier year.

Water supply is a huge problem for Beijing, which is exacerbated by dry winters and a growing population. It is over-reliant on the diverted water from the south, Zhong says, and more needs to be done to prevent any serious shortages in the future.

Related: Chart: China’s Glaciers Supply Water to Billions. They’re Vanishing

Support independent journalism from China. Subscribe to Caixin Global starting at $0.99.

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By Shen Fan, Qi Xiaomei, Zhao Runhua and Zhou Tailai / Mar 08, 2019 04:51 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

We usually don’t see it, or even think about it. But China’s soil pollution is in fact “very severe,” said Li Wei, director of the State Council’s Development Research Center, during a discussion at China’s CPPCC.

It could take longer – and require greater investment – for China to solve its soil-pollution issues than its air-pollution problems, Li said.

Pollution caused by pesticides and fertilizers in China’s soil is among the worst in the world, according to Li. He demonstrated his point with a case from Shandong province – a major agricultural and trading hub for North China – in which local farmers refused to consume the same ginger they were selling, for fear of toxicity caused by polluted soil.

Rampant water and soil pollution could eventually prevent Chinese agricultural products from qualifying for sale on international markets, he added. Li proposed that the State Council study the uses of pesticides and fertilizers, and spend two to three years working toward practical solutions.

But pesticides and fertilizers aren’t the only causes of China’s soil pollution. Soils are also polluted by industrial chemicals such as cadmium, a toxic heavy metal often used for making batteries, which can cause diseases when it seeps into rice through the soil. From 2016 to 2018, Quzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province reported seven instances of cadmium-polluted rice. 

Related: China Comes to Grips with Poisons Underfoot


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By Zhou Tailai and Zhao Runhua / Mar 05, 2019 04:47 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Beijing might be active in advocating anti-climate-change policies, but some local governments are going the opposite way, according to Tang Junjie, chief engineer at a leading state-owned cold chain company, who spoke as a delegate to the CPPCC. 

According to Tang, many local governments are suppressing the use of liquid ammonia, an energy-efficient refrigerant which would cause less environmental damage. Due to some recent safety accidents caused by improper storage and ammonia's flammable nature, many local governments are reluctant to issue approval of ammonia usage.

According to Tang, this is forcing companies to use Freon, a refrigerant that greatly exacerbates ozone depletion and accelerates global warming.

Tang believes this could hurt China’s credibility as a member of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The delegate proposed to clarify industry standards regarding the uses of ammonia, and to regulate local industry supervision.

Related: China's Carbon Footprint Swells to Record Size

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By Wang Jiawen and Tang Ziyi / Mar 04, 2019 04:17 PM / Environment

Wu Weiren. Photo: VCG

Wu Weiren. Photo: VCG

It looks like China hopes to follow up on the success of Chang'e 4, the spacecraft that made history when it landed on the far side of the moon last month.

China now plans to land a rover to Mars next year, the next step in its ambitious plan to become a major space power.

China will send a rover to Mars to orbit, land and conduct astronomical observations, Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar exploration program, said on Sunday before the opening of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

China plans to become a space power by 2030. Other projects in the works include building a reusable launcher and a permanently manned space station.

Related: Five Things to Know About China’s Bid to Land on the Far Side of the Moon

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By Zhao Runhua / Feb 26, 2019 04:06 PM / Environment

A county in southwest China has suspended its shale gas exploration after three earthquakes occurred within two days, which locals have angrily attributed to the mining activity.

The earthquakes — in Rong county, Sichuan province — occurred less than five hours apart, with magnitudes of 4.7, 4.3, and 4.9, respectively, according to China’s earthquake monitoring platform, CENC. Though this pales in comparison to powerful quakes like the 8.0 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 that killed 69,227, two residents were killed and 10,911 rooms were reportedly damaged.

Anxious residents angrily blamed the gas mining. The local government has since suspended all shale gas extraction until an undisclosed date for what it called “safety" considerations.

Last October, the same Rong county government responded to citizens' similar concerns — expressed online and on the streets — and said further research was needed. No major earthquakes were reported last year, according to CENC.

Rong county is adjacent to the notorious Himalaya earthquake-prone area where tectonic plates move, but is also in one of China’s largest areas of shale gas reserves.

Data showed that the quakes occurred around five kilometers below the surface, but some experts pointed out that Rong’s shales reserves are mostly at shallower depths, which they said may mean the quakes were simply natural occurrences.

Related: Gallery: Help Rushes In After Strong Earthquake Shakes Sichuan City

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