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    Amid Clean Air Push, Inspectors Sniff Out 2,000 Violations

    Cities take spate of measures to decrease Northern China’s notorious winter smog.

    Environmental inspectors identified 2,080 air pollution-related problems during recent checks in northern China’s Hebei province, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Tuesday.

    The inspections, led by Hebei’s provincial environmental protection bureau, were carried out in September and uncovered various lapses at both companies and government departments. Violators had failed to rectify problems identified during earlier checks, had faked monitoring figures, or had improperly operated their pollution control facilities, among other transgressions.

    Inspectors handed out fines in excess of 77 million yuan (about $16 million) in total.

    A second round of inspections started on Sunday, in part to check on violators identified in September. A construction material factory in Hengshui City, for example, was found to have ignored orders to close shop. Investigators had discovered it still used clay, a material banned in Hebei since 2015 because its use includes processes that result in heavy air pollution.

    The inspection tours dovetail with renewed efforts to clean up the air in northern China, which frequently reaches unhealthy levels, especially during the winter.

    In April, the Ministry of Environment Protection (MEP) announced year-long air quality inspections in 28 cities in and near northern China’s Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. Together with the powerful National Reform and Development Commission, the MEP set goals for the period October to March 2018: In all cities, the average concentration of particulate matter and the number of days with severe air pollution should decrease by at least 10 to 25 percent year-on-year.

    The measures were announced after last winter saw more smog than the year before, breaking with the general trend of improving air quality in China. Because January and February were particularly hazy, concentrations of PM2.5, fine particles that can enter the bloodstream, in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area were 5.4 percent higher during the first half of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. The figure was as high as 30 percent for some cities individually.

    To achieve their targets, municipal governments in the area have implemented far-reaching measures. Various kinds of diesel fuel may no longer be sold in the region since October. Also starting this month, Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, which borders Hebei, has banned the sale, transport, and many uses of coal. Six districts in Beijing were given the goal of completely abandoning coal burning by the end of October. Use of fireworks has also been limited.

    But the MEP itself is not optimistic that its own targets will be met. In September, it warned that the upcoming fall and winter would be relatively warm and humid compared to past years, and that this could result in worse air pollution. A study earlier this year said climate change would contribute to worse winter smog in Beijing because weather conditions conductive to haze would become more common.

    Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

    (Header image: A steel factory in Tangshan, Hebei province, Jan. 20, 2016. Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images/VCG)