An online campaign was picking up steam on Sunday, aiming to push governments to attend to groundwater pollution problems as Web users accused factories in Weifang, Shandong Province of pumping their waste underground.
Facing this public outcry, authorities in Weifang responded on Sunday, saying that they will give tip providers 100,000 yuan ($16,050) if clues pointing the finger at factories violating water discharge regulations were found to be true. People who assist the government with these leads will also be awarded with 10,000 yuan.
The Shandong provincial department of environmental protection said on Sunday that dumping waste underground is a serious violation of the law and that it would root out such behavior.
"I was just angry after receiving information from Web users saying that the groundwater in Shandong had been polluted and I forwarded it online. But it came as a surprise to me that after I sent out these posts, many people from different places in northern and eastern China all complained that their hometowns have been similarly polluted," Deng Fei, reporter of Phoenix Weekly and initiator of the "Free Lunch" campaign, told the Global Times.
Pan Yuejie, a press officer at the Weifang Party Committee, told the Global Times that as of Sunday, 715 companies have been investigated but that Web reports about pollution were false.
"We have 24-hour systems to monitor these factories and if violations happened, we would find out in no time," Pan said.
Official statistics show that the city government has established 55 waste processing factories capable of handling 1.81 million tons of polluted water daily. These are able to purify 95 percent of the waste coming through them.
It is clear that waves of accusation from the public have heaped pressure on local authorities and that the Internet has become a major force in countering pollution, Deng said, adding that he is happy to see that Weifang has started to respond instead of blocking information and news reports.
An environmental protection volunteer from Shandong Province followed the Web users' lead and investigated one accused factory only to find it had stopped operating two months ago.
"Though we have seen materials provided by locals and witnessed pollution caused by the waste, it is still hard to find out where specific factories pumped out waste and where the wells discharging the waste are," Ren Zengying, the volunteer, told the Global Times on Sunday.
More tip providers have since surfaced online and villagers confirmed to the Global Times that they have stopped drinking water from the tap or from wells as they fear the pollution will cause cancer.
"Children suddenly came out in red blotches and cancer rates have spiked in the counties of Diaozhai and Shuizhai in Zhangqiu, Shandong. But villagers are not rich enough to drink bottled water or they are just not fully aware of how serious the pollution is," one Web user using the handle Diaoyu Islander No.1 told the Global Times.
One villager surnamed Wang living in Zibo, Shandong complained about a similar situation and said that locals have to pay for clean water after the government installed some purifying machines selling clean water in the areas near a chemical plant.
"Both the public and the government are presenting different stories but without concrete evidence, we don't know who to believe. The public has every right to express their concerns over water or air quality and it is the government's job to ensure their security. We believe the government will root out the polluters if they are determined to do so," Deng said.
About 200 million people in rural China have no access to clean drinking water after environmental protection departments inspected groundwater in 200 cities, according to a China News Service report from June last year.
The 10-Year Plan issued by the State Council to curb groundwater pollution said that by 2015, governments should control groundwater pollution by establishing a monitoring system and that by 2020, further monitoring systems for typical means of pollution such as garbage and industrial waste should help curb these.
Deng voiced the opinion that governments would disclose pollution information to the public and accept public supervision as this will stop incessant doubts caused by simply denying problems.