A survey into soil pollution in China is a "state secret," according to the country's environmental authorities, which have refused a Beijing lawyer's request for it to be published.
The lawyer, Dong Zhengwei, told the Legal Daily newspaper that he e-mailed the Ministry of Environmental Protection on January 30 asking it to publish information about its survey, including testing methods, results, causes of soil pollution and its prevention.
The survey dated from as early as 2006 but its conclusions have never been made public, the newspaper said.
Dong said he received a reply from the ministry on Sunday, a 22-page letter that didn't include any information about the survey's results.
The ministry wrote that it refused to publish the survey results because the information was a state secret.
Dong told the newspaper: "The ministry has claimed to Chinese media several times that it would publish data covering its survey of China's soil pollution after it is permitted to do so by the State Council.
"Now it seems like the soil pollution in China is so serious that the environment authorities dare not publish the result."
Dong said the ministry's refusal may have violated the rules governing the publication of government information.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the newspaper that soil pollution in China was directly linked to residents' health and the ministry could not deprive residents' right to know by simply labeling the information as a state secret.
"Soil pollution may directly damage residents' health while it would also affect food, crops and underground water to pose a danger to health. The public has the right to know about soil pollution," Ma said. He said that compared with other pollutions such as air and water, soil pollution is much more difficult to judge by members of the public, which is one reason why the ministry should publish the information to keep them informed.
"The country has never made public any information about soil pollution. Questions such as what buildings are set up above polluted earth or what crops are still being cultivated in polluted soil may spark panic among residents," said Ma. "But this should not be a reason for the ministry refusing to publish."
Ma called on the ministry to publish at least part of its survey result with explanations of how pollution came about and what measures should be taken to prevent it in future.
So far, there has been no response from the ministry.
Air and water pollution in China raised concerns recently after a map was widely circulated online showing that China had at least 247 "cancer villages" throughout the mainland.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Environmental Protection admitted the existence of such villages and said pollution was to blame for high cancer rates among their residents.
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