Man becomes first in China to sue government over dangerous air pollution

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

A Chinese man is attempting to make history by becoming the first person to sue his government over the country’s dangerous levels of air pollution.

Li Guixin submitted a complaint to a district court in Hebei province, asking the Shijiazhuang Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau to "perform its duty to control air pollution according to the law,” according to the state-run Chinese language publication Yanzhao Metropolis Daily.

On Tuesday, pollution levels in Beijing topped hazardous levels for the sixth straight day, according to the U.S. Embassy pollution monitor. The most recent ratings were literally “beyond index,” meaning they exceeded the already most extreme measurement levels of air pollution.

The World Health Organization’s China representative told a briefing in Beijing on Monday that both the government and industries in China need to make a better effort to curb pollution levels across the country.

“We have to put more pressure on all of the authorities and all the industry production to improve so we can actually reduce the very heavy pollution,” Bernhard Schwartlander said.

The court has not yet decided whether to take up Li’s complaint, but he is still the first known individual in China who has attempted to sue the government over its failure to curb dramatically increasing levels of pollution.

Chinese law reportedly makes it difficult for nongovernmental organizations to sue the government or industries over pollution levels. The BBC said higher courts in the country have already rejected Li’s complaint but that the district court is currently deliberating whether or not to take up his case.

In addition, Li is asking for compensation for residents who are affected by the pollution.

"The reason that I'm proposing administrative compensation is to let every citizen see that amid this haze, we're the real victims," Li told the paper. "Besides the threat to our health, we've also suffered economic losses, and these losses should be borne by the government and the environmental departments.”

In his complaint, Li said he has spent money on air purifiers, face masks and even a treadmill so that he can exercise while avoiding going outdoors during levels of extreme air pollution.

“Li Guixin couldn’t take a walk or run like in the past as air quality worsened, and he also has to wear a mask now when he goes out,” said Li’s lawyer, Wu Yufen. “His case is relevant for everyone in our city.”