SHANGHAI — China’s environmental problems remain serious with local governments not putting enough pressure on businesses to control pollution, the nation’s environment protection minister has said.

Efforts to toughen environment laws have not done enough to fix the widespread problems for China’s air, lakes and rivers, Zhang Lijun said Tuesday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

“The general situation of environmental pollution does not allow us to be optimistic,” Zhang was quoted telling a national meeting on pollution control in Shanghai.

Zhang’s ministry replaced the environmental protection agency last year with greater powers, but enforcement still depends largely on local officials.

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Zhang said environmental protection departments across the country needed to place greater pressure on businesses to contain pollution, according to Xinhua.

“The fundamental way to overcome this is to continue to press enterprises to reduce pollution emissions through technology and management,” he said.

Local governments, however, often face a conflict of interest because they benefit economically from heavily polluting industries.

Nearly a quarter of the monitoring stations set up along major rivers, such as the Yangtze and Yellow, reported the worst water quality on China’s six-level scale, the report said, citing documents distributed at the meeting.

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Nearly 40 percent of the water in 28 major lakes also registered level six ratings — meaning it was too polluted for even farm irrigation.

In urban areas 90 percent of river water and half of underground water is polluted, the report said.

Meanwhile, the average air quality in two out of five Chinese cities ranges from “polluted” to “hazardous”, according to a survey conducted in November in 320 cities, according to Xinhua.

In one of the latest reported incidents, hundreds of thousands of people in the eastern Chinese city of Yancheng had their tap water cut off over the weekend after a chemical company spilled their products into a local river.

One of the most high-profile cases occurred in 2005, when a massive chemical spill into northeast China’s Songhua River resulted in tap water being cut for millions of people and pollution flowing into Russia.

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