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Construction of emergency management system for fatal environmental pollution accidents in China.

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Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2009; 4: 837–842
Published online 18 September 2009 in Wiley InterScience
( DOI:10.1002/apj.356
Research Article
Construction of emergency management system for fatal
environmental pollution accidents in China
Weihua Zeng,* Ying Chai and Jing Wei
State Joint Key Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control, School of Environment, Beijing Normal University, 100875 Beijing, China
Received 23 August 2008; Revised 26 April 2009; Accepted 28 April 2009
ABSTRACT: Currently, China’s rapidly developing economy as well as increasingly expanding urbanization and
industrialization gives birth to not only prosperity but also many hidden troubles, among which are fatal environmental
pollution accidents (FEPAs) caused during the manufacturing process. Frequent FEPAs have seriously threatened the
economic development and personal security and restricted the sustainable development in China. To respond to frequent
FEPAs in China, the authors analyzed the inducements to FEPAs and identified the responsibilities of environmental
protection departments. Furthermore, the authors put forward a basic framework for emergency management system
(EMS) by reference to the successful experiences overseas and proposed some suggestions.  2009 Curtin University
of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
KEYWORDS: fatal environmental pollution accident (FEPA); environmental risk (ER); emergency management system
On 24 November, 2005, an explosion took place in a
petrochemical factory located in the Songhuajiang River
in northeastern China, causing serious water pollutions.
Fatal environmental pollution accidents (FEPAs) have
recently happened countrywide in China, from Huaihe
River and Tuojiang River to Songhuajiang River, seriously damaged daily life as well as manufacturing process. Figure 1 shows the amounts of environmental pollution accidents (EPAs) in China, and we can see that
nearly 100 EPAs happened each year. Water pollution
and air pollution are main types of EPAs (Fig. 2).
Why are there so many FEPAs? Are they acts of
God or man-made disasters? Are they inevitable results
of rapidly developing economy or malfunctions of the
emergency management system (EMS). To answer these
questions, we should at first find out the inducements
to FEPAs.
Superficially speaking, inducements to FEPAs can be
summarized by many accidents, such as workers’
unskillful operation, tanks dilapidation and leakage,
facilities aging, warehouse collapse, vehicles turning
*Correspondence to: Weihua Zeng, State Joint Key Laboratory of
Environment Simulation and Pollution Control, School of Environment, Beijing Normal University, 100875 Beijing, China.
 2009 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
over, and ships sinking. All these accidents bring
forward poisonous and deleterious substances, mainly
some chemicals including Persistent Organic Pollutants,
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, benzene-like compounds, heavy metals, nitrogen and phosphorus, into
environment. However, we cannot just ascribe these disasters to unexpected accidents. Some essential reasons
in consciousness and system must be recognized.
Weak environmental consciousness and poor
management system
These FEPAs are inevitable more than accidental. Lacking environmental consciousness, many local governments unilaterally pursue excessive economic benefits
without regard for environmental protection, leaving
hidden troubles for FEPAs. They think little of environmental risks (ERs) and ignore the inspection of ER
sources of manufactories. Once FEPAs happen, they
always catch people off guard. Even in the place where
FEPAs have happened before, people seldom learn their
lessons from them, or set up contingency plan, resulting
in the recurrence of FEPAs.
Besides, China’s environmental protection departments are not directly led by central government, therefore, they are always restricted by local governments
from the aspects of both human resource and financial cost; they are challenged by regional barrage and
impossible to deal out justice. Some approved projects
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
Figure 1. The amounts of environmental pollution accidents happened in
China. Source: China Environment Monitoring Station.
Figure 2. Water pollution and air pollution account for the majority of all the
environmental pollution accidents happened in China. Source: China Environment
Monitoring Station.
do not meet with the industrial policy or adopt forbidden or eliminated technology and equipments; some
new projects are carried out at an unusual speed,
regardless of safety supervision, let alone environmental impact assessment; some manufactories unilaterally
pursue economic benefits without regard for maintenance or renewal, making their equipments aging. Management system badly needs reformation. Therefore, it
is the man-made disaster that explains the FEPAs rather
than acts of God.
A radical therapy is not only to improve local governments’ environmental consciousness but also to make
environmental protection departments directly led by
central government and enhance their authority, as
well as make some reformation on the structure of
the government. For example, two governmental functions, resources exploitation and resources conservancy,
should be separated, and resources conservancy, currently taken charge of by different departments, should
be uniformly managed by environmental protection
departments to avoid superposition, disjunction and
conflict among various departments.[1]
Improper industrial layout
In China, many manufactories with ERs are situated
along rivers and near sensitive spots, such as residential
 2009 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
areas. Various ERs are potential FEPAs; they may
evolve into FEPAs and cause pollutions to rivers and
people. Once ERs evolve into FEPAs, there would
be casualty and damage, sometimes even ecological
disasters. Figure 3 indicates logic diagram of ER system
that comprises ER sources, factors, fields, recipients,
primary control mechanism, triggering mechanism and
secondary control mechanism.[2]
Polluting manufactories are typical sources, and there
are some primary control mechanisms controlling the
process that ER sources release ER factors. Once
accidents happen, such as explosion or fires, it will
result in the operation of triggering mechanism and
the failure of primary control mechanism. Then factors,
such as pollutants, will be released into environment and
form fields. The forming of fields does not definitely
mean a FEPA. If fields are isolated from recipients by
secondary control mechanism, there will not be a FEPA.
However, if secondary control mechanism fails, a FEPA
may happen.
Therefore, when we make industrial layout plans, ER
system must be considered. We should carry out ER
assessment for manufactories. From the aspect of ER
fields, we should choose proper location for manufactories by land suitability assessment with emphasis on
spatial distribution of environmental carrying capacity.
And from the aspect of ER secondary control mechanism, we should set up safety curtain between manufactories and sensitive spots to interdict fields from
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2009; 4: 837–842
DOI: 10.1002/apj
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
Figure 3. Logic diagram of environmental risk system.
recipients and propose measures to evacuate recipients
to get away from dangerous area as soon as possible.
Imperfect EMS
China has just began to construct EMS, and this system is still unformed and imperfect. First, there is a
lack of related laws and policies. National Contingency
Plan for Environmental Emergency Accident has been
approved and brought into effect; however, many details
should be perfected according to current situation and
methodology should also be established. Contingency
plan for watersheds, provinces and cities are still being
composed. Even in the areas that already have contingency plan for FEPAs, experiences are still scarce, and
mechanisms such as command, dispatch, coordination
and succor are still imperfect. The law-deficiency and
experience-deficiency make central and local governments hard to solve realistic problems.
Second, there is a lack of interdepartment or interregion EMS. Interborough FEPA, such as FEPA happened
in Huaihe River, Tuojiang River and Songhuajiang
River, should be solved by interdepartment or interregion cooperation with the help of the whole country
or the whole watershed rather than one department
 2009 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
or one region. However, although departments such
as Ministry of Environmental Protection, Shanghai
Environmental Protection Bureau, Jiangsu Environmental Protection Bureau, Guangdong Environmental
Protection Bureau, and Dalian Environmental Protection Bureau have already established Environmental
Emergency Response Centers, they did not cooperate well in Songhuajiang watershed FEPA. We can
always find tremendous flaws during the cooperation
between departments and between regions, especially
referring to the information communication and information opening.
Third, China’s report system for FEPAs is still
vacant. It is the responsibility for manufactories that
cause pollutions to report the matter; however, no
regulations provide information to related departments
about the procedure and content of the report. Therefore,
information cannot be reported in time. If delayed
information is also concealed, local panic will arise.
Therefore, facing the fact that FEPAs have happened
too frequently, it is urgent to improve the EMS of China.
We should overthrow the situation that law-deficiency
and law-breaking exist everywhere in China as well as
establish interdepartment and interregion Environmental
Emergency Response Committee nationally and locally.
At the same time, report system for FEPAs should
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2009; 4: 837–842
DOI: 10.1002/apj
also be established as soon as possible. A good EMS
is crucial for the controlling of FEPAs, and many
researches should be carried out on the construction
on EMS.
US EMS for various EPAs is consummate. US Federal
government has set up Federal Emergency Management
Agency in 1979, providing efficient emergency work
including disaster prevention, disaster mitigation, succor preparation, emergency response, region recovery,
and region reparation. Each state has also set up related
departments. They communicate with each other and
coordinate with federal government, making the EMS
run smoothly.
Emergency law system
US governments are responsible for macroscopical regulation and control. They provide various laws for EMS
to control FEPAs. Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act 1986 (EPCRA) is the core of
the whole EMS. Resource Conservation and Recovery
Act is to supervise hazardous wastes in working area,
and Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act is to supervise hazardous wastes
in uncontrollable area. Besides, Clean Water Act, Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and Process Safety
Management for Highly Hazardous Chemicals also concern emergency work.
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
emergency work for multinational EPAs between United
States and neighboring countries. It has cooperated
with Mexico and drafted out an agreement on treatment, management and cooperation, named United
States–Mexico Joint Contingency Plan for Preparedness for and Response to Environmental Emergencies
Caused by Release, Spills, Fires or Explosions of Hazardous Substances in Inland Border Area.
Emergency information system
US report system is strict; once EPAs happen, it
is obligatory to inform related departments. Various
contents should be included in the report, such as
chemical names, leakage time, duration, affected area,
acute and chronic disease possibly caused by FEPAs,
sources of medical aids and defense measures. There are
also hotlines of emergency aids and emergency centers
to provide information for succor as well as ensure the
right to know.
According to successful experience from United States,
how to construct EMS in China? It can be achieved
from the following three aspects: (1) adopting integration management, (2) constructing four subsystems and
(3) establishing watershed EMS.
Integration management
Emergency organization system
Besides legislation, US governments also provide
macroscopical regulation and control by organizing
appointed departments to supervise other departments,
forming rigid organization system. US Emergency
Organization System mainly includes three kinds.
Emergency Response Commission and Emergency
Planning Committees are set up according to EPCRA.
Environmental Protection Department is in charge of
the daily work, holds regular conferences and discusses
emergency issues. The members are Environmental
Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health
Administration, Department of Defense, Department
of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, Department
of Transportation, Department of Health and Human
Services, and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Department of Homeland Security is set up after
9/11 event. It brings forward Homeland Security Strategic Plan mainly toward FEPAs plotted by terrorists.
Besides, United States attaches much importance to
 2009 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Since emergency work is related to many departments
and many regions, it is essential to adopt integration
management to coordinate the work. The first step is
to integrate departments. EMS involves many departments, including Environmental Protection Department,
Fire Protection Department, Public Health Department,
Water Management Department, and Communication
Department, most of which only consider themselves
rather than overall situation. It is necessary to establish
an advanced organization above all the related departments so as to coordinate the emergency work. Nowadays, environmental protection departments just play an
auxiliary role among all the departments, whose function is limited to carry out field survey and emergency
inspection, supervise environmental pollution caused by
accidents and forecast it, promulgate accurate environmental quality to public as well as other related departments, coordinate departments to carry out emergency
work and organize related personnel to assess the effect
of accidents. They should be entitled to coordinate the
other departments.
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2009; 4: 837–842
DOI: 10.1002/apj
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
The second step is to integrate regions. Most FEPAs
involve several regions, especially water pollutions
that may involve the whole watershed. It is urgent to
construct watershed EMS to solve various conflicts.
The third step is to integrate contents. Emergency
work needs the cooperation of departments. Each
department should carry out their own responsibility,
for example, Fire Protection Department takes charge
of rescue and cannot respond to secondary pollution,
which is the responsibility of other departments, only in
this way can ensure the emergency work run smoothly.
Four subsystems
According to the successful experiences in the construction of EMS in United States, we conclude that US governments play a significant role, especially in the aspects
of legislation as well as macroscopical regulation and
control. At the same time, it is essential to establish
an organization to guarantee the emergency work. In
this organization, environmental protection departments
play a leading role and preside over its daily work,
which demonstrates the significant role of Environmental Protection Department, while other departments are
its committee. When FEPAs take place, contingency
plan agreed by either sides can give guidance to emergency work. Besides, report system and emergency
information can ensure the emergency work running in
order. Therefore, China’s EMS should include four subsystems, each of which should be established carefully
and studiously.[3]
Emergency law system includes related laws, policies, regulations and criteria on emergency work. There
are already some laws related to FEPAs and EMS
in China. China’s Law of Environmental Protection
claims that units that cause or may possibly cause a
water pollution accident as a result of an accident or
other exigency should at once take emergency measures, inform such units as well as residents that are
likely to be endangered or damaged, report the matter to local Environmental Protection Department and
other related departments and wait for investigation and
punishment (Chapter 4, Article 31). China’s Law of
Prevention and Control of Water Pollution claims that
if a pollutant discharging unit, as a result of an accident or other exigency, discharges pollutants in excess
of normal quantities and thus causes or may possibly
cause a water pollution accident, it shall immediately
take emergency measures, inform such units that are
likely to be endangered or damaged by the water pollution and report the matter to the local Environmental
Protection Department (Chapter 4, Article 28). Criminal
Law of the People’s Republic of China (1997) claims
that whoever, in violation of the state’s stipulations, discharges, dumps or disposes radioactive wastes, wastes
of carrying infectious pathogens, poisonous substances
 2009 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
or other dangerous substances to land, water or air,
and causes a serious accident of environmental pollution shall, if the offence causes serious consequences
of great losses of public or private property or bodily injury or death of another person, be sentenced to
fixed-term imprisonment of not more than 3 years or
criminal detention, and concurrently or independently
be sentenced to a fine; if the consequences are especially
serious, the offender shall be sentenced to fixed-term
imprisonment of not less than 3 years and not more
than 7 years, and concurrently be sentenced to a fine
(Chapter 6, Section 6, Article 338). More laws need to
be enacted to perfect the emergency law system, especially on what concern contingency plan, public right
to know, compensation, responsibility confirmation and
report system.
Emergency organization system can improve the
coordination between central and local government,
communication between regions, adequate share of
information and resources, efficient cooperation and
consummate organizations. We should establish emergency committee and emergency centers. Environmental Protection Department is in charge of the daily work,
holds meeting regularly and discusses about issues relevant to emergency work.
Emergency information system is to acquire information about sources and emergency accidents, to provide
information accurately and timely to related personnel,
to implement contingency plan and allocate resource by
special software and to provide measures for evaluating
the loss and the impact as well as recovering from the
Emergency technical culture system is to provide
technology on emergency work including fatal hazard
identification, ER assessment, contingency plan and
emergency succor. Some cutting-edge techniques can be
adopted in this field, such as 3S (Geography Information
System, Global Position System and Remote Sense)
and even 3G (third-generation wireless transmission
systems), to obtain data on spatial location, environment
quality, pollution sources and ecological environment,
as well as videos on monitoring spot and related
facilities, and transmit and save them into database.
Besides, educating and training related personnel are
also parts of emergency technical culture system, so as
to improve safety consciousness.
Watershed EMS
Watershed FEPAs usually cause water pollution and
conflict among several regions. Therefore, it is essential to establish EMS within the whole watershed.
We should establish watershed emergency committee and emergency centers. The former is to coordinate emergency work within the whole watershed, as
well as the arbitration, negotiation and mediation on
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2009; 4: 837–842
DOI: 10.1002/apj
interregion water environment issues, whereas the latter is responsible for detailed emergency work under
the guidance of the former.
The members for the two organizations should be
Fire Protection Department, Civil Affairs Department,
Environmental Protection Department, Public Security
Department, Agriculture Department, Water Management Department, enterprises and citizen delegates.
They should be led by Watershed Water Resource Management Committee, an already existing committee in
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
coordinate the work among departments and regions
and reinforce emergency law system, organization system, information system, and technical culture system.
Especially, EMS for watershed FEPAs is currently a
bottleneck; each watershed should establish watershed
emergency committee and emergency centers.
The author Z. Weihua has been supported by the
National 863 program (2007AA06A404).
China’s Frequent FEPAs result from the weak environmental consciousness of local government, and they
unilaterally pursue economic benefits without regard for
environmental protection. At the same time, improper
industrial layout leaves hidden troubles to FEPAs. This
indicates the deficient capability of governments to deal
with FEPAs. China’s EMS needs to be improved.
According to the successful experience in United
States, China should adopt integration management to
 2009 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
[1] W. Zeng, S. Cheng. Introduction to Environmental Catastrophology, China Environmental Science Press: 2000; p.12.
[2] W. Zeng. J. Environ. Sci., 2005; 17, 263–267.
[3] W. Zeng, S. Cheng, F. Li. Research on the Universal Law
of Evolving from an Environmental Risk to an Environmental
Pollution Accident, Science Press, Beijing: 2004; 4, 40–45.
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2009; 4: 837–842
DOI: 10.1002/apj
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