The officials responsible for deliberately manipulating data collected from nine air quality monitoring stations by using a spray of water have been severely punished, according to the country's top environmental authority.
Some of the officials were removed from their posts or demoted, while others were given warnings or demerits on their records, Liu Youbin, spokesman for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said on Thursday.
Liu, speaking at a news conference, did not disclose the number of officials who were punished but said the cases happened in seven cities in six provincial regions in December and January.
In one of the cases, seven people entered a monitoring station in Changde, Hunan province, where two of them sprayed water on air quality monitoring equipment, according to the ministry.
"The ministry will continue random inspections on environmental monitoring work to ensure monitoring quality is maintained, and will have zero tolerance for any fraudulent collection of environmental monitoring data. Any violations will be thoroughly investigated," he said.
Liu also said that more than 1,000 officials have been punished for failing to fulfill their environmental protection duties in the second round of a nationwide comprehensive environmental inspection.
While 10 of the officials were referred to judicial authorities, the others were publicly named, admonished or given Party disciplinary and administrative punishments.
In addition to three officials at or above vice-ministerial levels, those punished included 159 prefecture-level and 464 county-level officials in either government or Party committee posts from seven provincial regions, including Beijing and Shanghai, Liu said.
He said most officials were punished for dereliction of duty and violating regulations in decision-making and project approval.
According to the ministry, about 1,100 officials were held accountable in the first round of environmental inspections carried out in eight provincial regions.
Liu said inspections are expected to cover the whole country in another three years. In addition to the comprehensive inspections, other special random inspections targeting certain types of pollution will also be launched, and a long-term environmental protection mechanism will be established to promote high-quality economic development.
China will mobilize about 600,000 people in a nationwide pollution census that will target 9 million enterprises, said Hong Yaxiong, head of the census office.
He said the enterprises are classified as polluting based on information provided by government bodies including the State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the State Administration of Taxation, and State-owned enterprises such as the State Grid Cooperation of China.
The census team will consist of environmental supervisors, each of whom is now responsible for monitoring a small area, along with university student volunteers, he said.
Third-party organizations will participate in the census, contributing their expertise in calculating pollutants to ensure data accuracy, he said.