New policy supports China’s effort against soil pollution by targeting land used for agriculture and development.

The Chinese government has announced that land used for agriculture and development in China will be subject to a new contamination and control standard, effective August 2018.

The standard will set screening values for risks and intervention, with the aim of ensuring safe agricultural products and a healthy standard of living.

Under the new standard, agricultural land that exceeds the intervention level must not be used for harvesting edible products and should be used for forestry instead. If land used for development exceeds the intervention level, it will be remediated.

China’s new control standard builds on the Action Plan for Soil Pollution Prevention and Control, which the State Council released in 2016. The action plan pledged to control soil pollution and to make 95% of polluted arable land safe for human use by 2030. Heavy metal contamination is a particularly important area of focus, as it has contributed significantly to China’s soil pollution as industrial wastewater is often discharged onto agricultural land. An estimated 16% of surveyed land in China is contaminated with metals such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury, with the pollution being particularly severe in central and southwest China.

China could face an estimated cost of 1 trillion yuan (US$146.39 billion) to clean up polluted land. This translates into 20,000 yuan (US$2,928.86) per one mu (0.066 hectares). China is due to publish the latest soil pollution survey after 2020, which will provide a clearer sense of the potential clean-up cost.

This post was prepared with the assistance of Olivia Featherstone in the London office of Latham & Watkins.