1. Current status of soil pollution and countermeasures in China
In China, the situation of soil contamination is not deemed to be optimistic because the legislative efforts to cope with these emerging soil issues have been delayed in spite of the facts that in some areas the soil contamination is relatively serious, soil contamination of cultivated land has become serious, and soil environmental problems at the sites of the former mining industry have become apparent.
Although many regulations and standards for environmental protection have been promulgated by the former Ministry of Environmental Protection, they were only technical regulations and did not stipulate requirements for environmental management.
In 2018, “Soil Contamination Prevention Law” was enacted finally over a long history. With the promulgation and enforcement of this higher-level law, the purification and countermeasures for contaminated soil in China have been further strengthened. For instance, in October 2019, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China issued the “Notice Concerning Further Steady Promotion of Soil Contamination Status Survey Activities for Business Sites in Priority Industries” in order to steadily carry out soil contamination status surveys for corporate lands in priority industry enterprises. Along with the announcement of this notice, the requirements and detailed goals for the bodies implementing soil contamination status surveys in each region were clarified. Specifically, for the corporate lands judged to be at high risk of pollution through this survey, the local governments can encourage such land users to conduct a soil pollution survey by the end of 2020. On the other hand, the companies subject to priority supervision and management for soil environment are required to carry out self-monitoring of soil and groundwater. In addition, a clear legal requirement was presented that the ecological environment management departments in local governments must regularly conduct monitoring of the companies subject to priority supervision and management for soil environment and the areas around the industrial parks, and formulate a monitoring implementation plan by the end of January 2020.
Based on the “Soil Contamination Prevention Law”, individual local governments have publicly announced soil-related methods, plans, standards or regulations.
Furthermore, Chinese government will formulate a series of incentives to address soil problems, promote and standardize the alliances between companies and social capital in the projects to improve soil pollution issues, and gradually open up social capital in a wide range. After that, Chinese government will formulate concrete measures for incentives so that social capitals can invest in the projects to improve soil pollution issues, including the various measures related to financing, tax revenue, and preferential loans. Along with the implementation of the “Plans” and the “Soil Contamination Prevention Law”, it is expected that more than 5.7 trillion yuan (about 122.6 trillion yen) will be invested nationwide in this field in a medium or long term. In addition, Chinese government, along with the formulation of soil pollution improvement laws and regulations, will promote the activities which local governments and companies will remediate contaminated soils, make commercial models to establish rational incentive mechanisms and profit sharing models, and make efforts to encourage the involvement by more market actors and social capitals.
2. Framework of laws and regulations related to soil pollution in China
In December 2009, the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued drafts of the “Temporary Measures on Soil Environment Management of Contaminated Sites” and “Technical Guidelines for Soil Remediation of Contaminated Sites” as sector regulations. Furthermore, in 2009, the “Industrial Contamination Site Environmental Assessment and Remediation Management Measures” (opinion collection draft), a sort of regulation to manage and supervise the soil environment of contaminated sites as well as reduce the risks to human health and ecological environment at contaminated sites, was enacted. After that, “Industrial Company Site Environmental Survey and Remediation Work Guidelines (Trial)” as well as five departmental standards called HJ25 Series Standards, namely, “Local Environmental Survey Technical Guidelines” (HJ25.1-2014), “Local Environmental Observation Technical Guidelines”. (HJ25.2-2014), “Contaminated Site Risk Assessment Technical Guideline” (HJ25.3-2014), “Contaminated Site Soil Remediation Technical Guideline” (HJ25.4-2014) and “Contaminated Site Terminology” (HJ682-2014), were promulgated.
The promulgation of the “Soil Contamination Prevention Action Plan” in 2016 clarified the independent responsibility of companies with respect to protection of soil environment. With this action plan, the environmental management by companies have been strengthened, preventing soil pollution has been incorporated as part of their environmental risk prevention system, and it has been emphasized to ensure that they attain the emission standards for priority pollutants. Two years later, in 2018, the higher-level law “Soil Contamination Prevention Law” was enacted.
In addition, many standards have been established for prevention of soil pollution.