Lawyer asks MEP to release soil pollution data

Soil pollution has great impact on people’s health and the safety of residential environment. Photo:

A Beijing-based lawyer has asked the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) to make an administrative reconsideration on his application for making public the soil pollution data, after the environment authorities earlier rejected his demand on national security grounds.
On January 30, Dong Zhengwei, a lawyer from Beijing Lianggao Law Firm, submitted an application to the MEP demanding the ministry to disclose the national soil pollution data collected during a soil pollution investigation launched in 2006.
On February 24, the MEP rebuffed Dong's demand on national security grounds, citing the Article 14 of the Regulations on Open Government Information.
"I think that the Ministry of Environmental Protection referred to an unrelated regulation to address the issue. How could we say that livelihood-related data has close connection with national security?" asked Dong, asserting that the MEP's response violates a citizen's right to know.
According to Dong, the people's governments at the county level and above and their affiliated departments should make public the government information about environmental protection, public health, production security, food and drug safety and product quality inspection in accordance with the Article 10 of the Regulations on Open Government Information.
Dong argued that the soil pollution data had nothing to do with national security, citing the Article 9 of China's State Secrets Law which stipulates that the environmental information cannot be listed in the category of national security unless it is confirmed by the State Secrets Bureau.
The MEP, in its response to his demand, had not offered any evidence that the soil pollution data had been identified by the State Secrets Bureau as a state secret, said Dong.
"Soil pollution has great impact on people's health and living environment. Contaminated soil can lead to crop failure, groundwater pollution and air pollution. Therefore, the soil pollution data cannot be kept in dark," added Dong.
 Between 2006 and 2010, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in collaboration with the Ministry of Land and Resources, conducted a soil pollution investigation with the cost of about 1 billion yuan.
But the investigation results have not been released three years after it was completed, although Wu Xiaoqing, vice minister of the MEP, had told a press conference on June 5, 2012, that the ministry would release the results of the soil pollution investigation launched in 2006.
"The precise results of the national soil pollution investigation may not be released in the short run because the soil sampling made in 2006 was less rigorous. The concerned authorities need to further refine their investigation into soil pollution," said Gao Shengda, deputy secretary general of the Industrial Union of Environmental Remediation.
Dong vowed to continue to seek the facts. "If the administrative reconsideration bears no fruit, an administrative litigation may be my possible option," he said.

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