SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's environment watchdog has summoned top officials from Linfen city to account for their poor control of sulfur dioxide pollution which has soared to more than 16 times the country's national standard, the China Daily newspaper reported.
The newspaper reported on Friday that the Ministry of Environmental Protection had also suspended new project approvals in the city in northern Shanxi province. Among officials summoned was mayor Liu Yuqiang, it said.
China launched a "war on pollution" in 2014 as anger grew over the world's second-largest economy's failure to tackle land, water and air pollution.
Despite shutting factories, ordering vehicles off the record and naming and shaming companies, serious pollution persists in many areas of China, with employment still a priority and penalties too weak.
Sulfur dioxide concentrations in Linfen, home to numerous coal-fired boilers and plants, have exceeded 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter on four occasions since Jan. 4. This was far above the national standard of 60 micrograms per cubic meter, according to the China National Environmental Monitoring Center.
High levels of sulfur dioxide can harm the respiratory system, according to the World Health Organisation.
The ministry also said that the city government had failed to issue timely alerts for severe pollution and also said some companies had failed to curb emissions or case operating equipment.
All named polluters will face daily fines that do not have a limit and the city will need to submit an improvement plan within 20 days, the newspaper said.
Linfen's mayor promised to take stricter action to reduce emissions, saying that he was deeply sorry for the severe air pollution and lack of controls, according to the China Daily.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Michael Perry)