Beijing’s new “smog squad” on Monday detained a Mentougou District heating company employee surnamed Zhao for “suspected malpractice that had resulted in excess emission of pollutants in the air.”
The worker has become the first person in Beijing to be locked up for causing air pollution under the Environmental Protection Law, which China adopted in the beginning of 2015.
Earlier in March, a boiler at the heating company in Mentougou District was discovered releasing 10 times more sulfur dioxide into the air than usual under environmental standards due to Zhao violating “relevant procedures,” Shanghaiist reported.
The incident has caused a desulfurization facility to stop working altogether.
While the amount of time Zhao will spend behind bars is unclear, China’s administrative detention can last for up to 15 days.
The unidentified heating supply company was fined an undisclosed sum of money and has also been ordered to resolve the problem after investigators discovered that the facility tried to avoid supervision.
This has been a landmark case for Beijing’s environmental “smog squad” which was founded in January to keep the city’s skies clean by conducting an investigation into the open-air barbecues and burning trash.
The public has called on China’s government to step up the fight against air pollution, with Premier Li Keqiang promising to “make our skies blue again” during the country’s annual legislative meetings.
The task may be more difficult than expected as air pollution over eastern China has been linked to melting arctic ice.
Scientists at Georgia Tech University say that if the ice continues to melt due to climate change, similar events may recur, according to the BBC.
“In wintertime, in regions like Beijing you get these north west howling winds that blow like hell,” said Professor Yuhang Wang, one of the university’s researchers.
“A ridge system controls the intensity and location of this cold air moving south so what happens when you put in sea ice forcing or snow forcing, the ridge system gets weaker and moves eastward – instead of cold air blowing in the eastern part of China, it went to Korea and Japan in January 2013.”
It was further argued that this could affect the Beijing Winter Olympics scheduled for 2022.