China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Friday, December 23, 2005

2nd spill threatens Chinese cities

Cadmium flows toward home of 7 million people Associated Press

BEIJING — China's government rushed Thursday to shield the country's southern business center, Guangzhou, from a toxic spill of cadmium flowing toward the city of 7 million — the second manmade disaster to hit a Chinese river in six weeks.

Meanwhile, a slick of toxic benzene from the first accident in the north arrived in the Russian city of Khabarovsk, where worried residents flooded a telephone hot line

The twin disasters highlight the precarious state of China's water supplies for industry and homes. Regulators say its major rivers are badly polluted and millions of people lack access to clean water.

The accidents are an embarrassment to President Hu Jintao's government, which vows to clean up environmental damage from China's 25 years of breakneck growth.

Authorities in southern China were dumping water from reservoirs into the Bei River to dilute the cadmium spill from a smelter.

Cadmium is a soft, bluish-white metal found in lead and zinc ores. Exposure to it can cause lung and prostate cancer, kidney damage and bone disease, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The government did not say when the smelter spill would reach Guangzhou, the heart of the region near Hong Kong whose factories supply booming export industries. But the official Xinhua News Agency said city leaders were ordered to "start emergency plans to ensure safe drinking water supplies."

The smelter spill in the south already forced two cities upstream from Guangzhou — Yingde and Shaoguan — to stop using river water, according to state media.

Authorities were preparing to release 200 billion gallons of water from a Shaoguan reservoir to dilute the chemicals, the China Daily newspaper said.

Six weeks ago, a chemical plant explosion spewed benzene and other toxins into a northeastern river, disrupting the water supplies of millions of people and straining relations with Russia.

On Thursday, the benzene spill flowed into the city of Khabarovsk in Russia's Far East. The city of 580,000 people expects to continue to supply running water from the river because chemical levels were stillwithin a safe range.

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