China Environmental News Digest

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

CHINA: Green watchdog wants accident news fast

South China Morning Post,Tuesday, February 7, 2006,By Kristine Kwok

China's top green watchdog wants local authorities to promptly report environmental accidents so it can better inform the public of impending disasters.

The State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) said yesterday it had received 45 reports of environmental accidents between November 13, when a toxic spill in the Songhua River started to affect water supplies in the northeast, and February 1.

A statement posted on the administration's official website highlighted six serious incidents: a cadmium leak from a smelting factory into Guangdong's Beijiang on December 15, phenol contamination by a petrochemical plant in Liaoning's Hun River between December 24 and 29, pollution of Guangxi's Honghe, a zinc leak from a Zhuzhou Smelter Group plant into Hunan's Xiangjiang, diesel oil pollution of the Yellow River from a power plant in Gongyi city, Henan, and a petrol slick in Jiangxi's Gon River triggered by a ferry blaze last month.

Most of the cases had been reported by state media.

The Songhua contamination, triggered by an explosion at a Jilin petrochemical plant, drew national and international concern as it left more than 4 million Harbin citizens without mains water supplies for four days, and affected water supplies in Heilongjiang and on the Russian border.

State media reports on environmental accidents have been more visible since the accident.

"Sepa demands local environmental protection departments enhance supervision and establish an information disseminating system on public health, especially on environmental accidents, to protect the public's right to know on environmental issues," it said on the website.

Under the proposed system, departments and people responsible for supervision would be required to report any environmental accident to the local government and relevant provincial departments within an hour. Investigations ought to start immediately, Sepa said.

In urgent cases, reports would go directly to the State Council or Sepa.

Local governments also had to report incidents to neighbouring administrations.

The Songhua incident was exacerbated by a lack of communication, with the Jilin government failing to notify its northern neighbour about the spill.

Sepa said an accountability system would be put in place to prevent delays or mishaps in the reporting of accidents.

More than 70 per cent of China's rivers and lakes are badly polluted, Xinhua has reported.

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