CHINA / RUSSIA: China says pollution levels in the Songhua River should decline in the coming days;Russia's...
- Title: CHINA / RUSSIA: China says pollution levels in the Songhua River should decline in the coming days;Russia's Khabarovsk region on alert over threat of toxic river pollution
- Date: 25th November 2005
- Summary: PEOPLE ON ESCALATOR OUTSIDE SUPERMARKET WITH TROLLEYS CARRYING WATER SUPPLIES
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- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes
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- Story Text: A toxic slick of polluted river water reached the outskirts of one of China's biggest cities on Thursday (November 24) after an explosion at a petrochemical plant upstream nearly two weeks ago.
China said on Wednesday (November 23) the blast had caused "major pollution" in the Songhua River from which Harbin, capital of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and home to nine million people, draws its drinking water.
The explosion happened at a chemicals plant in neighbouring Jilin province only a few hundred metres (yards) from the Songhua River. Five people were killed.
Local media said Jilin had quickly blocked entry of the pollutants into the river and discharged massive volume of water from a reservoir to dilute pollutants, while Harbin had added some active carbon powders, and was expected to get 1,400 tons more, to purify the water.
Local Harbin residents were asked to stay away from the river to avoid possible exposure to airborne contaminants coming off the water, Xinhua said.
The State Environmental Protection Administration said banks of the river contained levels of benzene, an industrial solvent and component of petrol, 100 times greater than normal.
China assured the public on Thursday (November 24) that pollution levels in the Songhua River should decline in the coming days and that the Ministry of Environment will beef up observation centres around the affected provinces.
"The environmental protection department will step up their monitoring by adding observation posts. So far in Jilin, there are no reports of people getting ill after drinking the water, that is they stopped taking water from the polluted section of the river," added Zhang Lijun, Vice Minister of the State Environment Protection Bureau.
Zhang said the petrochemical factory where the explosion took place should be held accountable for the situation.
After reports that the polluted water from China was heading to Russia, the two countries decided they will set up a hotline so Beijing can keep Moscow informed about toxic river pollution heading for Russian territory.
Experts from Russia's Ministry of Emergency Situations on Thursday (November 24) carried out tests on water scooped through the frozen ice cover of the Sangui river - known as "Songhua" in China - in the Khabarovsk region, after fears that toxic pollution from China may reach local drinking water supplies.
Initial tests showed that there were not yet any dangerous substances in the Sangui river in Russia but that continual checks were being carried out, Russian officials said.
Russian television showed shops stocking up with extra drinking water and reported that some owners had already put up prices.
The Jilin plant, Jilin PetroChemical Co., had insisted it was not responsible for the pollution, arguing all the benzene burnt up in the explosion and generated harmless carbon dioxide and water, state media reported.
But the deputy general manager of China National Petroleum Corp., Jilin PetroChemical's parent company, apologised to Harbin residents and offered 60 trucks to help ship water into the city and a drilling team to dig wells.
WWF, the global conservation organisation, is highly concerned that the toxic spill in China will spread through the river ecosystem to Russia.
"This is probably one of the worst river pollution that China has seen, in the recent past at least, simply because it concerns a particularly toxic and carcinogenic substance, that is extremely difficult to clean out of a river system", Director General of WWF International Dr Claude Martin said. "The first concern is obviously how can one mitigate the situation along the river and up to the Amur river, there is a major concern that this could lead to serious damage to people and wild life along the Amur river, which is an extremely important ecoregion in terms of biodiversity conservation," he added.
The chemical spill took place in the Heilong-Amur River basin, which is fed by the Songhua River, and is the main water source of Khabarovsk, one of the largest cities in Russia's Far East.
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