25 March 2014, 11:45

Pollution police: China drones expose smog-forming companies, over 200 violations cited

Pollution police: China drones expose smog-forming companies, over 200 violations cited

The pollution police are actively patrolling in China as drones are taking off into the sky to spy on and expose smog-forming companies. Over 200 environmental violations have been cited so far just from the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) soaring high over cities like Beijing to look for the root cause of smog and pinpoint ecosystem breaches being made. 

According to the deputy minister of environmental protection, Zhai Qing claims that drones have recently paid a visit to Beijing, Shanxi, and Hebei provinces to check into the pollution levels. In these locations alone, they have been the worst hit places in China when it comes to pollution, with coal powering up stations, steel mills, and cement plants in the surrounding region.

The drones seem to be doing a commendable job as it has been noted by China Daily, a state-run newspaper that the UAVs helped "resolve" more than 200 environment-linked cases and the ministry is seriously thinking of deploying more drones to carry out inspections in other locations.

As of now, the ministry only has four drones. These devices were bought in 2012 for around $1.3 million, as stated by ministry official Yang Yipeng. "You can easily tell from the color of the smoke – black, purple and brown – that the pollution is over the limit, because if smokestack scrubbers are operating properly, only white smoke is emitted," said Yang in an interview with the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post, "There were too many chimneys like these, and the drones also captured pictures of flames in the open air ... and that is still only the tip of the iceberg."

Mainly, the pricey drones gather up evidence about environmental violations but also check over the performance of local governing bodies in the enforcement process of environmental safeguards. "It was very difficult for the law enforcers to collect evidence of violations when they make inspection trips outside Beijing, because locals easily recognize them and polluting factories swiftly suspend production, leaving few traces," said Yang, according to an article from The Guardian, "The drones, on the contrary, can catch them off guard as few people notice their existence."

Environmentalists approve of the increase in monitoring that has been going on yet they still feel like a better amount of concentration should be put on policy and legal reforms. "More monitoring and inspections are no doubt the direction to go. In fact, online emission monitoring systems have already been put in place for key enterprises in many provinces in China. Some data have also been gradually disclosed to the public. The key here is to ensure these systems actually function and to expand the coverage to other places," said Li Shuo, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia said, as stated in an article from The Guardian. He believes there should be a much higher cost for nono-compliant polluters to pay.

"When the country puts all its effort to win premier Li Keqiang's recently declared war against pollution, I would rather like to see one that involves less 'wartime machineries' but employs more systematic policy and legal reforms," said Li, as stated on theguardian.com.

In the meantime, the environment ministry has been thinking about using the drones to spray chemicals in the air to break up the smog during peak pollution periods. Over 100 hours have been dedicated to test flying the UAVs made by AVIC Aerospace, a subsidiary of the Aviation Corp of China. Once the chemicals are sprayed into the air, it freezes up pollutants in the air, in turn preventing them from even hitting the ground.

Voice of Russia, The Guardian

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