China is revising its environmental monitoring regulations to prevent officials from interfering or falsifying data, a move taken after authorities were recently exposed for spraying mist near stations to improve air quality readings.
The Regulation on Environmental Monitoring and Management will be updated to strengthen the rules, “providing a stronger tool for environmental authorities to punish violations”, Liu Zhiquan, head of the monitoring department at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said on Jan 31.
Several cases have been uncovered this month, including one in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region a week ago, when a district environmental authority used a mist cannon to trick a national air pollution monitoring station’s equipment atop a building. But the water turned to ice, creating solid proof of their deception.
In the exposed violations, some leading government officials said they had taken such actions due to soaring pressure to enact pollution controls, according to the ministry.
“We hold a firm stand to combat any violation interfering with monitoring equipment or falsifying data, with zero-tolerance toward it,” Liu said.
In addition to revised regulations, the ministry will work with authorities in charge of officials’ inspections to build a new system to evaluate assessment behavior and promotion policies, he said, adding that the public is also invited to keep an eye out for such violations.
“We hope the decision-makers will pay more attention to measures meant to reduce emissions like optimizing industries instead of adopting illegal behaviors to make the monitoring data better,” he said.
To make monitoring data independent and authentic, China managed to separate the surface water quality monitoring process from local environment controls in October.
The China National Environmental Monitoring Center has conducted a monthly assessment of water quality from 2,050 sections, and sample collection, transport and testing will be independent, making the data free from interference, the ministry said.
“We plan to build auto-monitoring stations by the end of 2018 for these sections, making the monitoring results available every four hours, and thus we will have a clearer picture of water quality,” he said.
In addition to measures improving water quality, the ministry will set up a three-year plan to improve air quality, Liu said, adding that it will provide specific plans and goals for major industrial zones.
The latest data from the ministry showed a continued improvement in air quality in China in January, with 338 cities having average concentrations of PM2.5－hazardous fine particles－decreasing by 20 percent versus year-prior levels.