Considering the high risks and costs associated with pollution, China should carry out soil pollution measures with land planning in mind, instead of resorting solely to remediation, according to a senior environmental expert.
近日，北京环丁环保大数据研究院院长胡清教授接受中国日报专访。本文转载自中国日报《Expert: Pollution control should be tailored to future》 文章作者 侯黎强。
"In urban areas, soil pollution control should be done based on general planning of the city, instead of simply conducting remediation," said Hu Qing, a professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen.
Many polluted areas could be built into concrete-paved parking lots or parks covered with clay, for example. Even without remediation, such polluted areas will not pose major hazards. By saving the high remediation cost and preventing second-time pollution, such work could also improve the well-being of people, even though long-term monitoring would need to be carried out, Hu said.
She added that the future of the environmental industry depends on preventing pollution rather than remediation.
"President Xi Jinping has emphasized 'Never forget why you started' on various occasions. We should think about this as well in soil pollution management. It's for the well-being of the people," Hu said.
Hu, with more than 30 years of research and work experience in the environmental sector, is chairman of the nonprofit organization Huanding Environmental Consortium.
She said her project of providing big data analysis of reports to national hotlines have found that environmental issues top the public's concerns, ahead of such issues as housing.
Soil pollution differs from that of air and water pollution, she said.
"Generally, soil pollution is not closely connected to people's lives," said Hu, who holds a PhD in soil environmental pollution and hydrology from Imperial College London.
Flowing water in polluted soil poses the biggest hazard, but it will usually not affect people unless it contaminates drinking water, evaporates into the air, or is absorbed by edible plants, she said.
It is also difficult to know the general conditions of even a single piece of land. "Test results of a sample from one point can totally differ another," she said.
Hu said countries such as the UK often isolate contaminated soil from water. For instance, putting a layer of clay over a polluted area to prevent rain from entering. The pollution may be removed after years of natural breakdown.
In China, however, a lot of remediation projects were launched without considering how the land will be used, which is not only inefficient from a cost perspective but also comes with high risk that the land will be polluted again.
For example, heating approaches to vaporizing and collecting volatile organic compounds will not only kill all microorganisms in the soil but will also consume a lot of energy. Adding chemicals or solvents may result in more pollution.
Contractors conduct projects with work acceptance as the target. They may turn to some simple engineering measures without pondering proper technical solutions, resulting in more contamination. Such measures should be cautiously applied to avoid wasting money, Hu said.
The mindset of the environmental industry in China should also be upgraded, she said.
"Rather than a business that targets profits, industry should be more of a public service," Hu said, adding that reducing pollution should be a priority.
In one project that Hu was previously involved in, she found a large pile of hazardous waste from a factory that could have been smaller if improved production processes had been used. With an optimized process, some wastes could become reusable resources.
"The generation of pollution does not need to be as high as it is," she said. "Minimizing pollution through better production processes could help in stepping forward to a circular economy."