China's environmental regulators say they plan to crack down on dumping and improper storage of hazardous materials, with special attention to heavy metals and electronic waste.
Ministry of Environmental Protection deputy director Zhang Lijun said in comments released Friday that the government also would halt reviews of any new industrial projects in Qujing, a city in Yunnan province where a local chemical company dumped more than 5,000 tons of chromium in June.
China is belatedly confronting a crisis of heavy metals poisoning after years of allowing manufacturers to disregard safety standards. The country has reported hundreds of pollution emergencies in recent years, many involving lead and various toxins from chemical and electronics factories.
The situation in Qujing and many other cases reflect "widespread inadequacies in handling and disposal of hazardous waste in the country and pose a threat to public health," Zhang said in comments published on the environment ministry's website.
Zhang said that companies that handle chromium, polycrystalline silicon used in solar cells, sewage sludge and electronic waste will be receive special scrutiny.
In some forms, chromium is toxic and carcinogenic.
The Qujing case caused widespread alarm after the chromium dumped by Yunnan Luliang Chemical Industry in June killed livestock and tainted rivers supplying drinking water for cities in the heavily populated Pearl River Delta.
The chemical plant in Qujing has more than 140,000 tons of chromium slag stockpiled at the plant, according to the environmental group Greenpeace.
According to the latest available government figures, China produced 45.7 million tons of hazardous waste in 2007, with the amount expected to increase by 5 percent to 7 percent a year in 2011-2015, the state-run newspaper China Daily reported.
Zhang put the amount receiving appropriate treatment at less than 20 percent of the total, it said.
China's environmental regulators have said they are determined to clean up contamination of the soil and water supplies from factories scattered across the country _ a pernicious side-effect of the concentration of so much of the world's industrial production in China.
But gaining compliance at the local level has been difficult.
In Qujing, two truck drivers who were meant to haul the waste chromium to a processing plant in a neighboring province instead dumped their loads near a reservoir, according to reports by state media. Rains washed some of the toxins into the lake, killing off dozens of head of cattle.
After news of the chromium dumping surfaced, authorities in Yunnan initially denied complaints that it was a public health hazard. Local officials heavily dependent on tax revenues from big factories typically have sought to cover up or downplay such problems.