BEIJING, Apr 2: In an attempt to improve air quality and battle the smog that often engulfs its many cities, China has deployed drones to spy on environment polluters who otherwise attempt to conceal their illegal activities.
During an air pollution inspections in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei Province and surrounding areas, officials of the Ministry of Environmental Protection deployed the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to check key places.
The UAVs were responsible for identifying at least one environment norms violator in Hebei's Handan City, where the air quality ranks among the worst in China.
Two outdated pieces of machinery were found hidden in the Hexin Iron and Steel Company factory. Government inspectors came to the site immediately, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The sintering machines exceeded emissions standards and operation should have stopped before the end of 2013.
Workers were also found improperly operating the desulfurisation facilities installed in the machines, an inspector said.
Six enterprises, including Hexin, were found violating pollution control guidelines during the inspections.
UAVs have been frequently used to monitor pollution discharge and the operation of desulfurisation facilities of companies related to steel, coking and electricity industries.
As a manufacturing hub, Foshan City of south China's Guangdong Province houses 40,000 sources of industrial pollution and nearly 900 industrial parks scattered in different villages, which are difficult to supervise.
When law enforcement officials enter a plant, often illegal activities are stopped, making it hard to collect evidence, said Peng Cong'en, head of the city's environmental protection bureau.
The UAVs used for environmental protection collect information with installed remote sensors, including digital cameras in high resolution, infrared and laser scanners and magnetometer.
Some are even installed with infrared thermal imager which can show the operation of facilities at night.
Peng said the drones can provide video evidence and record the law enforcement process.
"In this way, polluting firms fail to conceal their illegal behaviors," he said.
UAVs bring a new trend to environmental protection.
They also provide technical support in dealing with major environmental emergencies as well as assessment for construction projects, said Wang Qiao, an engineer with the Satellite Environment Centre.
Wang said a new system, which could monitor the types, density and diffusion process of pollutants with the help of UAVs once emergencies happen, will be put into use soon.