The ruling Chinese Communist Party has hit out at the country's three megacities for failing to meet pollution targets, while authorities detained 61 people on charges linked to pollution.
Leaders of Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing were found to have provided "inadequate" environmental protection to their 85 million residents, according to the country's environment ministry.
Shanghai, home to some 24 million people, was singled out for failing to end all illegal construction and shutter all illegal factories by the end of 2016, state media reported.
The city government had failed to implement orders to shut down some 800 polluting companies, all of which were still in operation, an inspection report by the country's Ministry of Environmental Protection found.
It said inspectors found 976 unlicensed wood-processing plants in the city's Fengcheng township district alone, and 31 of 46 illegal construction sites slated for closure still operating.
"Shanghai has seen some environment work growing slack and some standards have fallen," the ministry said in a statement, while Beijing and Chongqing have also been reprimanded for falling short of pollution targets.
The city's fines for polluters were too small to act as a deterrent, and environmental law enforcement was inadequate across the board, the ministry said.
Failure to implement
All three municipal governments had failed to properly implement some measures aimed at pollution control, state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.
Beijing, which has an official population of around 21 million, was also found guilty of failing to treat 18 out of 19 severely polluted rivers, finishing work on only one on schedule, at the end of last year, the report said.
Meanwhile, fine particulate air pollution, or PM 2.5, levels failed to achieve the targeted reduction in Beijing's Shunyi district for the second year running, it said.
Inspectors found some 10,000 small businesses still operating in the city's Daxing district alone, despite having been ordered to close the previous year for breach of environmental regulations.
The city was found to have had the worst air pollution in the country in 2016, the report said.
Meanwhile, in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, home to some 30 million people, some 28 million metric tons of untreated pollution is being discharged annually from around 100,000 farms within the city's jurisdiction.
Water pollution is also getting worse in some parts of the three cities, whose governments are ranked at the same level as a province in China's bureaucratic hierarchy.
Blocked by local government
Sun Yuanzhao, of the Asia-Pacific Law Center in Maryland, said there is a strong political will to tackle the monumental levels of pollution of China's air, water, and soil.
"But the local governments always allow economic growth and commercial opportunity to trump environmental concerns and won't invest the capital," Sun said.
"There's a huge gap between people's environmental aspirations and their actual actions," he said.
Ran Bogong, former politics professor at Toledo University, said the authorities will need to think of more advanced technology to tackle the problem, which activists say is exacerbated by the widespread falsification of pollution data.
"Progress towards significant environment achievements has been extremely slow, owing to the different circumstances of local governments," he said.
Businesses ordered closed
Meanwhile, authorities in the southwestern tourist town of Dali have ordered the closure of more than 4,000 businesses that were found to be polluting the environment in a mountainous beauty spot popular with tourists.
Some 4,000 restaurants and other businesses in the Erhai lake tourist region have been suspended for four days pending "rectification" of the pollution problem, local business owners told RFA.
"There are a lot less people coming down the street now than there were before [the suspension]," a business owner surnamed Hu said. "There used to be a lot, but the place has been deserted these last couple of days."
"We business owners are demanding a response from the government ... we want to sit down with them and present ... our demands [for compensation]."
An employee surnamed Wang at a hotel in Erhai said the government is requiring local businesses to pay for sewage treatment facilities of their own, or wait until the government builds a community treatment plant next year.
"I think it's fine to close down businesses to fix these problems, but I think the closures were too sweeping and too hasty," Wang said.
Calls to the Dali municipal government offices and to the Yunnan provincial government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.