China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Beijing vows to punish polluters

By Louisa Lim BBC News, Beijing
Woman with bucket in Harbin
Residents of Harbin went five days without running water
China says it will severely punish anyone responsible for an explosion at a chemical plant which poisoned the water supply for millions of people.

The poisoned stretch of the Songhua river is due to reach the city of Jiamusi, as it moves towards the Russian city of Khabarovsk.

Loans of almost $80m (£46m) have been granted to the city of Harbin, whose water supply was stopped for five days.

Three weeks on, China's leaders are finally scrambling to assign blame.

They have set up a team to find out who was responsible for the explosion that dumped 100 tons of toxic chemicals into a main waterway.

They are warning that failure to cooperate will be punished.

Limited investigation

The blast poisoned a huge swathe of the Songhua but Chinese officials took at least a week to warn locals that their water was contaminated.

It is interesting that the terms of the investigation refer only to the immediate explosion, not to any ensuing cover-up.

This saga has already led to two resignations - the head of the environmental watchdog and the petrochemical company boss.

That might not be enough to assuage public anger at what many people see as an official cover-up.

However, one pro-Beijing paper in Hong Kong is reporting that the deputy mayor of Jilin, where the explosion happened, has been found dead at home.

The cause of his death was unknown.

His portfolio included workplace safety, and he had reportedly told the media the blast had not resulted in any pollution.

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