September 14, 2015 / 6:47 AM / 4 years ago

Chinese emissions of two key pollutants drop slightly in first half of 2015

A woman holds a child as travellers wait for the highway from Beijing to China's Hebei Province to reopen after in was closed due to low visibility, on a heavy polluted morning August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s emissions of two key pollutants fell slightly in the first half of 2015, according to the environment ministry, as authorities stepped up punitive measures to combat environmental degradation.

Emitted levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide - both associated with acid rain - were down 4.6 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively, over the same period last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a statement on its website last week.

Chemical oxygen demand, a measure of water quality, showed a small drop of 2.9 percent, while ammonia nitrogen emissions were down 3.2 percent.

The percentage reductions were slightly higher than for the same period last year.

The ministry also said that it handled nearly 350 cases involving 282 million yuan ($44.27 million) in fines for violations of environmental laws during the first seven months of the year, including 43 million yuan in Hebei province, which surrounds the capital Beijing.

It also reported over 1,300 cases where it limited or halted production, and almost 1,000 cases involving “administrative detention” which generally means holding somebody behind bars for up to 15 days.

Under an amended environmental law that went into effect on Jan. 1, firms are subject to unlimited fines as well as custodial sentences if they fail to abide by state rules on technological standards, resource use and waste treatment.

The environment ministry also has new powers to shut down non-compliant projects, and is taking steps to ensure pollution from industrial plants is monitored properly.

The ministry did not give emission levels of ozone or carbon monoxide, two other key pollutants.

Reporting By Adam Rose; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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