Spurred by a video of a U.S. company shipping "mountains of junk" to China, the government in Beijing plans to take more vigorous action against companies that profit by importing and processing harmful waste.

Violators "will be prosecuted and face fines," said a spokesman for the State Environmental Protection Agency. He gave no details.A recent report in the China Youth News said there are more than 100 factories handling foreign industrial waste in southern Guangdong province alone. Companies in southeastern coastal areas also turn a profit from handling foreign waste, "causing severe pollution."

The environmental agency "has never allowed companies to import harmful waste. It is against state regulations to purchase and process foreign refuse," the spokesman said.

All factories and companies will be required to register imported goods at local environmental protection departments. Processing of any imported waste will need permission from the local authorities.

The move comes only days after pro-China Window magazine in Hong Kong reported at length on a U.S. company that sells industrial waste to a Chinese firm.

A video produced by the San Francisco-based Center for Investigative Reporting purports to show a Chinese-American standing before a mountain of junk in Guangdong province.

"Now we have found an ideal dumping ground on the Chinese mainland," the man, Chen Zengping, is quoted as saying.

The rubbish is a mix of old car batteries, computer keyboards and display screens, plastic soft drink bottles, used oil, air conditioners and lengths of wire and metal.

Guofu Smelting Co. in Zhuhai, a flourishing special economic zone in Guangdong not far from Hong Kong, began importing U.S.-origin waste from Mr. Chen in 1990, the investigators said.

Up to 150 truckloads of junk, nearly all from the United States, arrives at the factory each month, one worker there said. Staff earn about 500 yuan (US$87) a month removing copper cores from wires, he said. The rubber casings are then burned or shipped elsewhere.

China's governing State Council is said to have ordered Mr. Chen to stop shipping waste to the factory (whose name translates as "National Prosperity"). Workers said he has probably just changed the destination to other Chinese cities.

A factory in nearby Shenzhen, the oldest and most prosperous of the special economic zones, imports four metric tons of industrial waste annually, officials said, in conjunction with Taiwanese partners. Some is reputed to be radioactive and in danger of polluting underground water supplies.

The Jinxin Copperware Factory in Shenzhen is the only plant in the city authorized to import waste. It processes about 40,000 tons a year, much of it

from the Los Angeles-based Mr. Chan.

Mr. Chen "did not hide the fact that most of the materials contain toxins and asbestos," the magazine reported. "He said he used to ship similar materials to Taiwan but switched to China after Taiwan banned waste imports."

The Jinxin plant pays Mr. Chen US$1,000 a ton for waste, which can contain 100 pounds of copper, the magazine said. The copper is recycled into wire and sold for up to US$20,000 a ton, it said.

Metal dust and other residue is used to make foundation material for buildings. Zhu Yi'an of the Shenzhen environmental agency, said that practice was illegal even though the plant is a licensed waste-processor.

More than two years ago, the national environmental agency and Chinese customs officially prohibited imports of industrial waste deemed harmful to the environment. After a somewhat sluggish start, officials now appear to be moving to curb the trade.

A Japanese company recently offered to help the booming southeastern province of Fujian with its development program. In return, it wanted to export 40 million tons of dry cement and mixed stone and mud over 10 years, one official said. The proposal was rejected.