The Ministry of Finance will subsidize soil pollution prevention and treatment in three cities in the central province of Hunan, state media reported, as pilot efforts to halt developments that have rendered 3.33 million hectares (8 million acres) of Chinese farmland too polluted to grow crops on.
Hunan was the source of rice containing dangerous levels of toxic cadmium sold in the southern city of Guangzhou last year.
Under the plan, the Ministry of Agriculture will monitor and control metal residues to prevent them from leaking into the soil, while the rice crop will be replaced with cotton and other non-edible products.
But government efforts to protect agricultural and urban soil fall massively short of what is needed, said Lan Hong, a professor at Renmin University’s School of Environmental and Natural Resources.
In the current five-year plan, the Ministry of Finance has budgeted 30 billion yuan ($4.8 billion) in spending on soil pollution prevention efforts, but Lan said it would cost at least 140 billion yuan, nearly five times above the budget, to solve the problem.
“The funding is based on data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, but it is at the lower end of estimates. Some of the environmental damage will only be exposed after many years,” Lan told Reuters.
Plants used to weed out soil pollution
Chinese scientists have developed soil remediation technologies to prepare for large-scale applications.
The technologies focus on using plants to absorb heavy metal contaminants in soil.
The technologies were developed by the Center for Environmental Remediation of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Resources Research under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which began research 10 years ago.
Soil contamination is serious in China, with large areas of cropland polluted, said Lei Mei, a professor at the center.
Soil remediation technologies have been applied on 133 hectares of land in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Henan, Yunnan and Hunan provinces and Beijing on a trial basis, and Lei said she believes the technologies will have “good application prospects”.
A report from the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Thursday showed that about 19.4 per cent of farmland in China was polluted, according to Xinhua News Agency.
“The publication of the survey result is a milestone for soil remediation in China,” Lei said.