China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

UPDATE: Toxic spill pollutes water in southern China

Shanghai. December 21. INTERFAX-CHINA - A toxic chemical dumped from a metals plant into a river in southern China has contaminated drinking water in a city with more than a million residents, the local government said.

A government-owned lead and zinc smelter pumped a dangerous amount of the chemical cadmium into the Bei River in the city of Yingde in Guandong Province on December 15, according to the government announcement that came Tuesday. Cadmium waste is the secondary product from lead and zinc smelting.

The river feeds into the Pearl River that passes through the major city of Guangzhou and on towards Hong Kong.

The local TV station warned Yingde residents last night against drinking the tap water due to the toxic contamination, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

"I was warned when I prepared to buy a packet of cigarette in a convenience store," a policeman surnamed Zhong in Yingde told Interfax Wednesday, "and then I bought several bottles of water."

Zhong said the citizens in Yingde are calm and there has not been any panic buying of bottled water.

The local government said the most serious pollution had already passed Shaoguan, which is upstream of Yingde, Li Huaping, a director at a Shaoguan-based state-own steel mill, who attended an emergency meeting yesterday held by the local government, said.

The Guandong Province's environmental protection bureau said officials were scrambling to dilute the cadmium to drinkable levels by opening reservoirs, as the initial cadmium reading was 10 times above the safety level.

"A emergency group led by our Chief Director Li Qing has set off to Shaoguan and Yingde," an administrative official, who declined to give his name, at the environmental protection bureau of Guangdong Province said.

However, officials from provincial and local environmental protection bureaus refused give more details about the pollution.

The governments of Yingde, Shaoguan and Qingyuan were in the process of delivering drinking water to citizens and trying to contain the pollution.

The state-owned smelter, Shaoguan Smelter, is responsible for the spill, the environmental protection bureau said. The smelter, the third largest in China, illegally discharged the cadmium-containing wastewater during an overhaul of equipment, the state-run Guangzhou Daily said on Wednesday.

"It's hard to say who is responsible, since our smelter is not the only lead and zinc producer located there," a Board director with Shenzhen listed Zhongjin Lingnan Non-ferrous Metal Co. Ltd., which owns the smelter, told Interfax.

Zhongjin Lingnan's stock was suspended trading Wednesday without an explanation.

"We will release an announcement on the stock exchange tomorrow," the director, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

Cadmium is known to accumulate in the human kidney for a relatively long time, about 20 to 30 years, and can impact the respiratory system and has been associated with bone disease.

The disease named Itai-itai .is caused by cadmium pollution and was generally recognized since the 1950's by the efforts of inhabitants in the cadmium polluted Jinzu River basin in Toyama Prefecture, Japan.

The water pollution comes after a huge chemical spill in northern China's Songhua River last month that caused the government to shut off water to residents in the city of Harbin for several days. The toxic spill also moved across the border with Russia and threatened water supplies there.

Li Huaping said the steel maker's production had not been impacted by the water pollution since the water supply for production and living is sourced from another river.

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