Despite indications of slowing growth, China’s GDP expanded 11.1% in the first half to US$2.55 trillion. That may have come at a cost. The number of "clean air days" slipped to 91% from 91.5% in the same period last year, marking the first official fall in air quality since 2005.
Chai Fahe, vice-president of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, blamed the dirtier air on the ramp-up of industrial output to support post-financial crisis growth. "[The increase in] construction and industrial projects that started this year due to economic recovery, as well as the rapid increase in automobiles, should also be blamed," Chai said.
A rise in industrial and environmental accidents is less excusable. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the number of environmental accidents almost doubled for the period between January and June compared with the same period last year – a time when the economy was still feeling its way through the US$586 billion stimulus package.
This escalation in environmental accidents was highlighted recently by several major incidents across the country. A blast at a China National Petroleum Corp oil pipeline in Dalian, Liaoning province, caused 1,500 metric tons of crude to spill out over 183 square kilometers. The spill claimed the life of one firefighter who drowned in oil during the cleanup operation.
Also in northeastern China, more than 1,000 barrels of trimethylsilyl chloride were swept into the Songhua river in Jilin during a heavy rains. In the south of the country, Zijin Mining Group (601899.SH, 2899.HK) was found to have illegally released wastewater into the Ting river from its copper plant in Fujian, causing major fish kills. Several company officials have been detained and reports suggest the miner could face a token fine of US$736,000. While no casualties were reported in these two accidents, at least 13 people died in an explosion at a plastics factory in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Official figures show that in the first half of this year alone, 187 people died every day in industrial accidents.
The mudslides in Zhouqu, Gansu province that killed more than 1,200 people might appear to be a freakish and unrelated occurrence – but more than torrential rains may be to blame. Some officials believe that deforestation in the region contributed to the deadly effects of the mudslides, once again raising questions about the true cost of economic growth.