SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Northern China's Hebei, the country's smoggiest province, has fired and reprimanded more than a dozen city-level officials for failing to control air pollution last year, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.
It said 16 officials were punished, including five who were dismissed, for failing to do their duty when it came to fighting smog, with many of the problems focused on Handan, a heavily polluted steel and chemical producing city in Hebei.
Hebei surrounds the capital Beijing and produces nearly a quarter of China's steel.
Handan was one of 28 northern Chinese cities forced to implement special measures to curb smog during a punishing 2017-2018 winter campaign to meet air quality targets.
But despite curbing industrial activity from September last year, it saw average concentrations of hazardous floating particles known as PM2.5 - a key component of smog - rise 4.9 percent to 86 micrograms per cubic meter in 2017.
The county of Cixian in Handan saw PM2.5 increase 19.7 percent compared to 2016, making it the worst performing district in the province.
The provincial government officially reprimanded Handan deputy mayor Gao Heping for failing to perform his duties properly. The county chief of Cixian was dismissed from his post, Xinhua said.
Early this month, the environment ministry summoned the mayor of Handan, Wang Litong, along with his counterparts in the cities of Jincheng and Yangquan, to explain why the cities had not managed to meet their environmental targets over the period.
Hebei said last year that it would hold all its officials accountable for pollution, describing lack of action as an example of "micro-corruption" among grassroots officials.
The province now publishes data showing air quality averages for all its cities, counties and districts.
It said in March it would use the data to establish a punishment and reward system aimed at disciplining officials and imposing financial penalties on the worst performers.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Manolo Serapio Jr.)