A woman washes clothes in a polluted canal in central Beijing, China.

China is aiming to clean up polluted water.Credit: David Gray/Reuters

Local governments in China have been fabricating environmental reports, helping companies to conceal illegal dumping and deceiving central-government inspectors, according to a report by the country's central environment ministry.

The ministry says that last year it uncovered thousands of violations of environmental regulations across ten provinces. A summary of these findings and of attempts by local governments to redress their actions was released by the ministry on 16 May. The summary also says that all ten have provinces have since made progress in cleaning up environmental messes.

China has been trying to reduce its environmental damage and boost initiatives to preserve its biodiversity. But the findings show that the country has a way to go to clean up its polluted air, water and soil — a goal of President Xi Jinping.

In Anhui, one of the ten provinces investigated by the ministry, artificial-diamond manufacturers allegedly dumped waste water and hazardous solid waste. But before inspectors went to investigate, officials warned the manufacturers about the inspections, according to documents that the Anhui government released earlier this month. In some cases, officials even instructed the companies to forge waste-disposal contracts, flush out a ditch contaminated with waste water and temporarily suspend production to seem compliant with regulations, say the documents.

False claims

Also in Anhui, officials in the city of Wuhu claimed in August 2017 that complaints that a concrete company was illegally disposing of solid waste had been resolved. In fact, the company didn’t even start to address the problem until a year later — in the meantime, the officials helped the company to hide illegal waste from inspectors, according to Anhui government documents .

In other cases, local officials would routinely forge documents to cover up their negligence, according to the ministry. A local government in the city of Zunyi, in Guizhou province in the south of the country, fabricated notes — which are required under the country’s regulations — for ten meetings that never happened.

The ministry’s summary evaluated the ten provinces on how they have addressed such problems since the investigations. For instance, Shanxi province has fined polluters about 24 million yuan (US$3.5 million), and set out to resolve 1,463 violations of environmental regulations. The ministry called these "positive results".

Hunan province has ordered 4,326 companies to change their practices, and has handed out 80 million yuan in fines.