China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Toxic leak threat to Chinese city

BBC news:
Chinese soldiers transfer drinking water to a warehouse in Harbin
Thousands of tons of water are being shipped in by road
Major pollution of a river has forced the suspension of water supplies to the northern Chinese city of Harbin, home to 3.4m people, authorities have said.

"Benzene levels were 108 times above national safety levels," said China's Environment Protection Administration.

The contamination after an accident at a chemical plant is expected to pass through Harbin on the Songhua river for the next two days, officials said.

Some schools and businesses have closed and flights out of Harbin are sold out.

"Everyone wants to leave Harbin and it is very difficult to buy tickets," a factory manager told Reuters.

Benzene is a highly poisonous toxin that is also carcinogenic.

HARBIN TIMELINE
13 November Explosion at petrochemical plant, Jilin city
21 Nov Water to Harbin city cut off; local government cites mains maintenance
22 Nov State media say water could have been contaminated after the blast
23 Nov Authorities admit very high levels of benzene have been found in the water

Fifteen hospitals have been placed on stand-by to cope with possible poisoning victims.

Officials are also on alert in Russian towns further down the river.

More than 16,000 tons of drinking water is being brought into Harbin by road, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said - though this is less than Harbin's residents normally use in a day.

Mistrustful

The government initially said the stoppage would last four days, but a water company official has told the BBC there is no set timetable for the resumption of supplies.

HARBIN
Capital of Heilongjiang province
Strong Russian influence
Hosts annual ice festival

BBC Beijing correspondent Louisa Lim says residents of Harbin distrust government statements, having originally been told the stoppage was for routine maintenance.

The initial announcement of water stoppages led to panic buying of water and food, exhausting supermarket supplies and sending prices soaring.

"The city was full of ridiculously large queues. People were buying water in massive quantities," English teacher Craig Hutchinson told the BBC News website.

Other residents told the BBC they felt more inconvenienced than worried.

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