In an effort to identify and crack down on factories that violate China’s green laws, the country’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has turned to an unlikely weapon: drones.
The unmanned aerial vehicles, which are equipped with infrared cameras, can detect whether factories illegally release emissions at times when inspectors aren’t present, according to the ministry. So far its four drones have flown watchdog missions over Beijing, Hebei, Shanxi, and Inner Mongolia—all heavily polluted regions in coal-reliant northern China.
On Saturday the ministry posted a statement on its website divulging preliminary results. Of 254 factories and businesses observed, 64 were flagged for further investigation of likely environmental infractions. The statement also named a few companies under suspicion for “serious environmental problems”: Hebei Iron & Steel Group, Shanxi Huaze Aluminum & Power, and Inner Mongolia Yihua Chemical.
The environment ministry acquired the drones in 2012. Earlier this year, Premier Li Keqiang said China needed to wage “war on pollution”; in April, China’s legislature revised its environmental protection law to strengthen penalties for infractions and protections for whistle-blowers.