China Environmental News Digest

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Greenpeace, WWF Slam Moscow Over Toxic Slick, Environment

Published on Tuesday, December 27, 2005 by Agence France Presse
Russia's authorities have came under fire from two prominent ecology groups for the "pathetic" response to a toxic slick that entered Russia's Amur River after an industrial accident in neighbouring China.

"This accident allowed us to check Russia's readiness for action in case of ecological catastrophe. And it proved that the many years of 'reform' within the environment protection services led to pathetic results," Greenpeace and global conservation group WWF said in a joint statement.

"The fairly effective system of state ecology committee has ceased to exist. The agencies that replaced it have very limited authority, insufficient staff and poor material and financial resources."

Greenpeace and WWF claimed that Russia's authorities had disregarded long-standing warnings from local environmentalists about the danger of pollution entering the Amur from connected Chinese waterways.

"Unfortunately, so far it is only the Khabarovsk regional government that is showing the will to act, but it has no authority or resources to act ... to solve the problems of the Amur, which is a river of federal importance," the ecology activists said.

Russia's federal authorities mainly concentrated their efforts on the short-term consequences of the slick as it passed through settlements, such as the city of Khabarovsk, the activists said, adding that there was no evidence of attempts by federal officials to address the ecological damage.

The ecology groups said there was also a lack of information about the slick, which was originally thought to consist of benzene and nitrobenzene but was later found to contain chloroform, chlorbenzene, xilol and other chloric elements.

Greenpeace and WWF suggested Russia set up a joint inquiry with Chinese and Mongolian experts and a monitoring system to analyse the Amur River.

"The main problem is in the lack of an ecological control system. Russia has no federal agency capable of handling ecological problems, both in crisis and on the daily basis. There are no structures capable of holding international ecological policy in dealing with neighboring states," the statement said.

The slick is due to reach the next major town on the river, Komsomolsk-na-Amure, and its 400,000 inhabitants on January 5 and then flow into the Okhotsk Sea.

Much of the benzene that originally entered the river is thought by experts long since to have dissipated.

But nitrobenzene -- an oily, colourless or pale yellow liquid with a characteristic smell of bitter almonds whose effects on people range widely from drowsiness to death and which can effect fertility and liver functions -- could still be present in high quantities, officials say.

The authorities decided Saturday there was no danger to people and the emergency committee handling the crisis was closed.

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