China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Half China's chemical plants pose grave risk

Tom Miller in Beijing
Wednesday July 12, 2006


Rubbish collects along a boom on a polluted Beijing canal. Photograph: AP
Rubbish collects along a boom on a polluted Beijing canal. Photograph: AP

Nearly half of China's chemical plants pose "a severe environmental risk", according to a report released yesterday by the country's environmental protection agency.

The State Environment Protection Administration investigated 7,555 chemical factories nationwide and found that 81% were located either on bodies of water or near densely populated areas. Nearly 300 chemical plants were sited within six miles (10km) of officially protected sources of drinking water.

Of the plants surveyed, 45% posed a major risk, the report concluded.

The report comes eight months after a chemical spill in the Songhua river in north-east China forced authorities in the city of Harbin to turn off local taps.

An explosion at a petrochemical plant 236 miles (380km) upriver of Harbin released 100 tonnes of benzene into the river, producing a 50-mile slick of contaminated water and threatening the water supply for millions of residents who rely on the river for drinking and washing. The Chinese government was forced to apologise to Russia when the slick crossed the border into the Khabarovsk region of Russia's far east, where the river is known as the Amur, endangering local fish stocks.

Pan Yue, the deputy director of the environmental agency and a vehement advocate of stronger environmental protection laws, said the "current distribution of China's chemical industry" was the main reason for the increase in water pollution accidents over the past year.

"There is no way that this problem can be completely solved over the short term; all we can do is to strengthen our environmental safety policies and adjust the industry structure step by step," he said.

China has around 21,000 chemical plants located along its rivers and coastline, which are usually built near water for production and logistical reasons.

Ma Jun, an environmentalist and prominent critic of the government's water policy, said the real problem was largely political: "We need a more inclusive policy process in which all stakeholders are informed and can participate meaningfully."

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