China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pollution Grows Along With China's Economy

By Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Nov. 29, 2005 (IPS/GIN) -- As China grappled with the fallout of trying to cover up a toxic spill in the country's impoverished northeast, the incident highlighted concerns about environmental disasters triggered by China's rapid urbanization and industrialization.

An explosion at a state-owned chemical factory in Jilin city earlier this month caused large quantities of poisonous benzene to flow into the Songhua River that runs through Harbin city, forcing authorities to shut off running water to the 3.8 million residents for five days.

Though Harbin authorities reacted slowly and misled the public about what happened, the central government mobilized resources rapidly, delivering tons of bottled water to head off panic and sending teams of officials to reassure fleeing inhabitants.

And as contamination in the Songhua threatened to spread to the Amur River across the border with Russia, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing issued a public apology to Russia, expressing "regret over the possible harm to be done to the Russian people by the major environmental pollution accident."

But little was said or done to alert the rural communities in numerous towns and villages along the Songhua between Jilin and Harbin about the dangerous chemicals flowing in the water. The authorities have offered no estimates on how many people rely on the river for drinking water.

After the news of the spill filtered to the villages surrounding Harbin, peasants started digging wells for water, the local media reported. But the environmental organization Greenpeace has warned that if any industrial chemical has seeped into the ground, the impact on the environment would be long term.

The Nov. 13 explosion released into the river about 100 tons of benzene, which is highly toxic and carcinogenic. High-level exposure to benzene is known to cause leukemia, and there are concerns that the same effects could result from long-term low-level exposure through water or food.

"We urge the Chinese government to make even greater efforts in protecting the local people and the environment," said Kevin May, toxics campaign manager of Greenpeace China. "It should, for example, conduct a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the pollution and, on that basis, draw up a plan and implement effective cleanup."

Pollution concerns have been behind a string of protests across the country in recent months. The link between local governments and factories that flout environmental regulations has aroused sharp criticism of the Communist Party and government officials.

In the latest incident, officials in Jilin suppressed news of the spill, some few hundred kilometers upriver from Harbin, for more than 10 days.

Public concern is also fueled by a lack of information in the past about health alarms, such as the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and natural disasters where death tolls and the scope of environmental hazards were, until recently, considered state secrets.

Now, even the usually docile state-run media has accused the government of mishandling a potential environmental catastrophe in Jilin.

The Beijing Youth Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party's youth league, accused the authorities of an unjustifiable lie that had "reduced public trust in the government."

The English-language China Daily drew attention to the costs of China's rapid economic development, which has blatantly disregarded environmental preservation.

"The 'GDP mania,' or preoccupation with gross-domestic product of growth, has contributed to the ignorance of work safety, pollution and educational needs, in some cases," said an editorial in the Tuesday's paper.

But the sharpest criticism came from the People's Daily, the flagship of the party.

Life has returned to normal after several days of water supply problems for Harbin residents, the paper pointed out last week, "but it will be years before 300 million farmers in the countryside get access to clean drinking water free of fluorine, arsenic and other poisonous industrial elements."

"We should provide rural residents with enough safe drinking water. If this problem remains unresolved, it would be shameful for us to talk about a harmonious society," the paper said, referring to the Communist Party leadership's stated goal of putting poor people first and narrowing the yawning wealth gap between the urban and rural areas.

The paper had a series of sobering figures about the scarcity and quality of water supply in rural China. Today, some 96 million rural people lack daily access to drinking water; more than 30 million farmers drink bitter and salty water every day; some 54 million have to contend with water containing high levels of fluorine or arsenic.

Rapid industrialization and urbanization have increased demand for clean water, even as China's fast development has polluted the water table and turned many rivers into moving cesspools.

Government officials reckon 70 percent of China's lakes and rivers are polluted.

Speaking at a water seminar this month, Chen Bangzhu, a senior environmental expert, estimated 75 percent of the lakes were suffering from eutrophication, or water pollution caused by excessive plant nutrients in the form of fertilizers, sewage and industrial waste.

On average, 20 natural lakes "disappeared" in China every year, and about 1,000 inland lakes had vanished in the past 50 years, Chen said.

China's environmental situation is considered grim, even by Premier Wen Jiabao, who has warned that strain on the country's environment will only increase in the coming years as industrialization and development continue.

"We must see clearly that at present we are discharging more waste than our environment can bear," he told a meeting of the State Council this month.

"As our economy develops and our consumption of resources and energy increases, our efforts to protect the environment will face greater and greater pressure," the Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

Russia's Monitor-E satellite to watch Chinese chemical spill

Moscow. November 30. (Interfax) Russia may use a special statellite to monitor a Chinese chemical plant spill that is expected to reach the Russian border river next week, an official said.

The Monitor-E remote Earth-probing satellite, launched on August 26, may be employed for monitoring the situation in the Amur River basin, Inessa Glazkova, deputy director general of the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center, told reporters on Tuesday.

"After receiving the first images from the Monitor-E satellite, we plan to conduct a number of experiments. We also plan to monitor the situation in the Amur River basin, meaning the Chinese benzene slick," Glazkova said.

Last week the Monitor-E satellite transmitted the first images, demonstrated to reporters today.

The Monitor-E satellite, designed by the Khrunichev Center, is Russia's first remote Earth-probing satellite.

Monitor-E has circled the Earth over 2,000 times since the time it was launched into space.

According to Glazkova, the satellite flight tests program is designed for a period of six months.

"We have tested service systems of the spacecraft, and learnt to control them under ordinary and emergency circumstances," Oleg Bakhvalov, chief of the Salyut Design Bureau, told reporters.

He said at the present time the Monitor-E satellite is under comprehensive control, and experts from the Khrunichev Center have embarked on testing its special equipment.

The satellite has transmitted images from two of its cameras. The distributed access camera provides for an image of the surface with a resolution of 20 m. The second panchromatic camera, featuring a resolution of eight meters, is expected to become operational in the near future.

The shooting session of the Earth surface, which took place last week, lasted five minutes and resulted in photographing various parts of Europe.

Glazkova noted that the Khrunichev Center did not plan to develop the second Monitor-family spacecraft.

"The Federal Space Program for 2006-2015 does not include the Monitor. It envisions development of two Resurs-P satellites, designed to survey natural resources. A tender on developing the satellite will be issued. The Monitor spacecraft may participate in the tender," Glazkova said.

According to her, the Monitor-E satellite will be employed for commercial purposes immediately after the flight tests. It will be capable of providing customers with images of one area or another for a fee.

The cost of images, transmitted by Monitor-E, will be lower than that of similar Indian and U.S. satellites, Glazkova said. "We will set a lower price, as compared with those of our rivals, but we will not resort to dumping," she said.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Residents advised against eating fish from China's polluted Songhua River in two months

BEIJING, Nov. 29 (Xinhuanet) -- The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) suggested here Tuesday that residents should not eat fish from the Songhua River in two months since it was poisoned with cancer-causing benzene on Nov. 13.

"The sedimentation of nitrobenzene may accumulate in fish bodies and it would be safer to stop eating aquatic products in the river," said Zhang Lijun, vice director with the SEPA.

Zhang said that his administration would soon organize an experts team to conduct water pollution assessment of the Songhua River and submit an ecology recovery plan afterwards.

A monitoring station in Jilin, a city in northeast China's Jilin Province, found on November 20 that benzene and nitrobenzene levels were far above state standards in northeast China's Songhua River, with nitrobenzene 103.6 times higher than normal.

A chemical plant in Jilin City exploded on November 13, spilling chemicals into the Songhua. An 80-kilometer-long slick of toxic benzene on the river flowed into Harbin early on Nov. 24, after the city of 3.8 million people shut down its water supply system.

"The SEPA will look into the accident and punish persons responsible for the accident according to laws," said Zhang

Bird flu virus in humans mutating

BEIJING, Nov. 29 (Xinhuanet) -- The H5N1 strain of bird flu seen in human cases in China has mutated as compared with strains found in human cases in Vietnam.

Doctors examine the chest X-ray results of an infant suffering from bird flu. The H5N1 strain of bird flu seen in human cases in China has mutated as compared with strains found in human cases in Vietnam.[AFP/file]
Chinese labs have found that the genetic order of the H5N1 virus seen in humans infected in China is different from that found in humans in Vietnam, Xinhua news agency reported Monday.

In China's human cases, the virus has mutated "to a certain degree," health ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an was quoted as saying.

"But the mutation cannot cause human-to-human transmission of the avian flu," he noted.

Mao said since the H5N1 bird flu first broke out in 1997, most human cases have been reported in Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Chinese mainland. No human case has been found in Europe so far.

The major channels of human infection involve direct contact with infected poultry or their secretion and excretion, as well as inhalation of the particles of the virus from the poultry's secretion and excretion, said Mao, noting that the general public won't get infected if they keep themselves away from sick and dead poultry.

By Nov. 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported 132 laboratory-confirmed human cases of bird flu including 68 deaths.

China this month confirmed its first three human cases of bird flu, two of which were fatal. The disease has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003.

Health officials fear that the virus could mutate to the extent where it is easily transmitted from human-to-human, an event that could lead to a global pandemic capable of killing hundreds of millions of people

Benzene spill to impact Khabarovsk for four days - official

Moscow. November 29. (Interfax) - The concentration of toxic substances in the Amur River near the main water intake in Khabarovsk will remain higher than normal for no more than four days, said Russia's chief sanitary official and Federal Consumer Rights and Welfare Service chief Gennady Onishchenko.

"The benzene spill drifting downstream towards the Amur from China is 80 kilometers long. The spill is moving at a speed of two kilometers per hour and will pass the water intake in four days," Onishchenko told a news conference at Interfax on Monday.

The spill, resulting from an accident at a chemical plant in China, will drift further downstream towards Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Amursk, and will have to be monitored, he said.

"We'll have to monitor what traces it may leave behind and how the ice may be affected," Onishchenko said.

The Emergency Situations Ministry reported that the spill is expected to reach Khabarovsk on December 10-12.

"In any case this is a serious reminder for the Khabarovsk territorial government to draw up a strategy for tackling the problem of water supplies. The Amur has already been polluted by waste from overly populated China," Onishchenko said.

Also Monday, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said it is in command of the situation in the Jewish autonomous district and Khabarovsk, which may be affected by the Amur pollution with Chinese chemicals, Director of the Ministry's Emergency Situations Monitoring and Forecast Vladislav Bolov told a press conference in Moscow.

"We have taken all measures to prevent an emergency and are in full command of the situation," he said.

It is not a matter of possible damages on people, Bolov said. "People will not feel unwell or faint," he said.

Khabarovsk schools will not be closed and plants using Amur water in the production cycle will keep on working, he said.

Shortly after the accident, the ministry forecast the worst possible consequences as the maximum permissible concentration of benzene exceeded ten times and the maximum permissible concentration of nitrobenzene exceeded seven times. Yet Bolov said that would not happen.

Chinese, Russian officials hold talks on coping with cross-border river pollution

HARBIN, Nov. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- The China State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) Vice Director Zhang Lijun held talks Monday night with the Russian Delegation of Khabarovsk Environmental Protection Bureau on dealing with the pollution of the cross-border Songhua River.

The talks included the impact that the polluted Songhua River will have on the Heilongjiang River, the border of the two nations, and the cooperation that China and Russia will make to monitor and test the quality of their border river.

Zhang, once again, expressed apologies on behalf of the Chinese government for the bad influence that the polluted Songhua River will bring to Russia.

The official also reported in detail to the delegation the related information of the river pollution, including the sorts of pollutants, the density and the location of the pollution belt.

He said the SEPA will report the latest information concerning the quality of the Songhua River to Russia in line with the instruction of Premier Wen Jiabao.

V. V. Dardiuk, director of the delegation, expressed gratitude toward China's reports and discussed his country's coping measures.

He said Khabarovsk has cooperated with Heilongjiang Province in the border river quality monitoring and testing for four years and believes that the problem will be settled through mutual efforts.

The delegation arrived at Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang on Monday morning

Environmental problems demand urgent attention

BEIJING, Nov. 27 (Xinhuanet) -- The recent heavy pollution incidents in China fully demonstrated the urgency of the country's environmental problems, a senior official of China's environmental watchdog has said.

"Environmental problems in China are not something far away, but are threatening our daily life," said Pan Yue, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, at a concert held here Saturday night to mark the International Volunteers Day, which falls on Dec. 5.

"The problems call for urgent attention and resolute solution," Pan told crowds of environmental protection volunteers that packed a local gymnasium.

The concert was held when a major pollution, caused by a chemical plant explosion, in northeast China's Songhua River are affecting the lives of millions of people along the river.

Another chemical plant explosion, which occurred last week in Dianjiang county of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, has also caused severe pollution to a nearby river, although the local government claimed Saturday that "the situation is under control."

Environmental issues have long been ignored by some local governments in China, as many officials are far more zealous in pursuing economic growth figures for the sake of getting promotion.

Pan, well-known as a staunch environmentalist, acknowledged that environmental problems in China cannot be solved by one governmental department or a small number of people.

"It needs the participation and supervision of entire society," he noted, calling on volunteers to play a greater role in this regard.

The concert drew noted singers both from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, and they jointly advocated stepped-up efforts to build a "green China."

Monday, November 28, 2005

Virus mutation found in human bird flu cases

BEIJING, Nov. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- Studies show the H5N1 strain of virus separated from China's human cases of bird flu has mutated compared with the strain found in Vietnam's human cases, said the Chinese Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday.

Lab tests find the H5N1 strain of virus separated from recent human cases is highly homologous with that found in poultry samples from the bird flu outbreak places, according to the information office of the MOH.

However, compared with the virus strain from the human cases in Vietnam, the genetic order of H5N1 in China's human cases has mutated "to a certain degree," the MOH spokesman Mao Qun'an said.

"But the mutation is impossible to cause human-to-human transmission of the avian flu," he noted.

Mao said since the H5N1 bird flu first broke out in 1997, most human cases have been reported in Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Chinese mainland. No human case has been found in Europe so far.

The major channels of human infection involve direct contact with infected poultry or their secretion and excretion, as well as inhalation of the particles of the virus from the poultry's secretion and excretion, said Mao, noting that the general public won't get infected if they keep themselves away from sick and dead poultry.

By Nov. 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported 132 laboratory-confirmed human cases of bird flu including 68 deaths.

China has reported three confirmed human cases of bird flu, including two fatality cases from east China's Anhui Province and one case from the central Hunan Province in which the patient has recovered

Three Gorges Dam unaffected by the earthquake in Jiangxi

Shanghai. November 28 INTERFAX-CHINA-The world's largest hydropower facility, the Three Gorges Dam, has not been affected by an earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale, which struck eastern Jiangxi Province on November 26. Officials confirmed to Interfax on Monday that the dam has not been affected.

"The earthquake hasn't affected the Three Gorges Dam," said Zhou Mingli, an expert with the General Office of Hubei Province Seismological Bureau. Hubei, where the dam is based, is to the northwest of Jiangxi- where the earthquake struck.

"The dam is designed with capabilities to avoid affects from earthquake measuring [up to] 6 on the Richter scale. As the world's largest hydropower facility, given full consideration it has been made to avoid large-scale disasters, " said Zhou.

Zhou added that the earthquake in a neighboring province did not "very much" affect Yichang City, where is the project based, "Hubei's capital Wuhan is the city most affected by the earthquake in Jiangxi. Most people there felt the earthquake," said Zhou, "so far one death in Hubei was reported."

An official with Yichang based China Three Gorges Project Corporation, the project owner, also told Interfax she hardly felt the earthquake in Jiangxi and the project is unlikely to be damaged.

The earthquake hit Jiujiang City in northern Jiangxi Province early November 26, and killed 14 people in total by 2 pm that afternoon, with 20 severely injured and more than 18,000 houses damaged, according to the latest figures from the State Seismological Bureau.

"The largest scale was measured at 5.7 and there were more than 200 aftershocks. People in northern Hubei, southern Anhui, northwestern Zhejiang and northeastern Hunan felt the earthquake," an official with State Seismological Bureau said, who declined to be named.

Seismological bureaus in Jiangxi, Hubei and Fujian have established urgent working groups at the site and are conducting research.

Hui Liangyu, the vice premier of the State Council, ordered all relevant government institutions to launch emergency rescue operations and inspections to reduce damage as much as possible.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed his concern for local people in Jiangxi Province via a phone call to Meng Jianzhu, the Secretary of the Jiangxi Provincial Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on Saturday after the earthquake hit.

The Three Gorges Project is expected to produce a total of 50 bln kWh this year, with the thirteen units on the left bank all generating power. The project has already generated 25.219 bln kWh in the first seven months of this year, and 7.147 bln kWh has been sold to the Central China power grid, 9.867 bln kWh to the Eastern China power grid and 8.205 kWh to the Southern China power grid.

In Visit to Harbin, Chinese Leader Silent on Spill Coverup

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, November 27, 2005; Page A26

HARBIN, China, Nov. 26 -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made an unannounced visit to this beleaguered city Saturday to pledge his support as a long slick of toxic river water continued moving through town. But he offered no explanation for the government's attempt to cover up a chemical spill that has left millions here without running water for four days.

The visit, the first by a senior Chinese leader to Harbin since Beijing admitted on Wednesday that a "major water pollution incident" had occurred in the region, was the latest move by the ruling Communist Party to repair its image and blunt public outrage caused by initial efforts to conceal the environmental disaster on the Songhua River.

A technician examines a water sample collected from a resident's home in Harbin, where water supplies were contaminated by a chemical spill.
A technician examines a water sample collected from a resident's home in Harbin, where water supplies were contaminated by a chemical spill. (By China Photos Via Getty Images)

In comments broadcast on state television, Wen said nothing about the delay in disclosing the massive chemical spill, which has also strained relations with neighboring Russia. But he sought to reassure the public that the party was doing everything it could to ensure clean water for residents, and he repeatedly emphasized the importance of releasing information to the public quickly.

"In order to guarantee safe potable water for the masses, the government has decided to adopt and strengthen monitoring, and to promptly share information with the people," he told workers at a municipal water plant in remarks broadcast on the national evening news.

In another clip on the local news, Wen visited the home of an elderly couple in the city and told them that "the most important thing is promptly giving everyone information." He was also quoted as urging local officials in a speech to "explain the truth and the measures the government is taking to the masses."

Wen's words echoed those that he and President Hu Jintao delivered in the spring of 2003 after the Chinese government endured international criticism for trying to conceal the deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and ending the coverup only after the virus had begun spreading around the world.

Wen's visit here came as the Chinese government also made a rare public apology to Russia for any harm that might be caused by the 50-mile-long band of contaminated water passing through Harbin and heading downstream toward the Russian border. The Songhua flows into the Heilong River, which becomes the Amur and flows into the far eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk.

State television showed Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergei Razov in Beijing and reported that he "expressed his sincere apology on behalf of the Chinese government for the possible harm that this major environmental pollution incident could bring to the Russian people downstream."

About 100 tons of benzene and other toxic chemicals spilled into the Songhua after an explosion Nov. 13 at a major petrochemical plant in neighboring Jilin province owned by a subsidiary of one of the government's largest oil firms, China National Petroleum Corp. But company and government officials in Jilin denied that the blast caused any pollution for 10 days as the toxins flowed through a mid-size city and several rural communities.

Exposure to benzene, which is colorless, can cause anemia, some forms of cancer and blood disorders, as well as kidney and liver damage. The government has reported no poisoning cases.

As the pollutants approached Harbin, a city of 3.8 million in Heilongjiang province about 600 miles northeast of Beijing, officials here announced plans Monday to shut down the municipal water supply for repairs. But 12 hours later, they issued another statement admitting that the water was being turned off because of possible pollution in the river.

The conflicting explanations fueled public confusion, prompting a rush to leave the city and panicked buying of bottled water and other supplies. Then anger replaced fear as influential party-run newspapers and magazines published unusually detailed reports exposing the efforts of officials to hide the disaster from the public.

The reports have placed most of the blame for the coverup on the officials in Jilin, and some editorials have bluntly accused them of lying. But in a sign of party infighting, the State Environmental Protection Administration saidthis past week that the Jilin officials handled the spill properly, and the central propaganda department has ordered the media to limit further reporting.

Journalists said the issue was sensitive because of the enormous influence of China National Petroleum Corp., and because it remained unclear whether officials in Beijing, including Hu, Wen and other members of the senior leadership, were briefed on the spill or approved the decision to keep it secret.

Hu Fengbin, a lawyer who filed suit against China National Petroleum Corp. on Friday seeking damages on behalf of a Harbin restaurant owner because of the water shut-off, said provincial and city officials in Harbin had lobbied to disclose the chemical spill but faced resistance from Jilin province and the central government.

By visiting Harbin, Wen appeared to be siding with those in the party who support greater candor on the subject. On state television, he said nothing about the officials in Jilin but expressed support for provincial and party officials in Harbin and praised their handling of the crisis.

Though the Harbin officials lied at first about why they were shutting off the water supply, one state media account said they did so because they were waiting for permission from higher authorities to go public with the chemical spill. The report did not specify who made the decision to end the cover-up but said the instructions came from the State Council, which reports to Wen.

State television showed Wen visiting workers who were digging new wells, testing water and upgrading the city's filtering system. "We absolutely cannot allow a single person to go without drinking water, and we absolutely cannot let a single person drink polluted water," he said.

State media said that the bulk of the polluted water had passed the city and that the government was scheduled to restore the water supply late Sunday night. Concentrations of benzene in the river here have already fallen to safe levels, and those of another toxic compound, nitrobenzene, were also nearing acceptable levels, city officials said.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

5 persons win govt-sponsored environmental prize

BEIJING, Nov. 27 (Xinhuanet) -- Tian Guirong, a farmer from central China's Henan Province, and four other environmentalists have won the first government-sponsored prize for environmental protection in China.

The list of the winners, dubbed Green China Annual Figures, are announced here Sunday and the prize-awarding ceremony will be held on Nov. 30 this year.

The prize is established by the State Environmental Protection Administration to honor those who have made outstanding contribution to combating environmental degradation in the country.

Tian, a farmer from Henan's Xinxiang City, won the prize for her voluntary collection of used batteries at her own expense, costing more than 200,000 yuan (about 25,000 US dollars) over the past years.

Another winner Liang Congjie is the founder of the Friends of Nature, the first non-governmental environmental protection organization in China, which was set up in the early 1990s.

Wang Canfa, a university professor of law in Beijing, was honored for his being the first person in China to provide legal aid to pollution victims and his persistent efforts in the regard.

The other two winners are Zhao Yongxin, a staffreporter from the People's Daily newspaper, and Liang Liming, director of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Taiyuan, capital city of the north China's Shanxi Province.

Zhao has written a lot of stories on environmental protection and is the first journalist in the country to unveil an illegal construction project that would bring ecological disaster to Yuanmingyuan, a former imperial garden in the western suburbs of Beijing.

Liang has made pains-taking efforts to tackle pollution in Taiyuan, and eventually remove the city from the list of the most polluted city in China.

The winners are chosen among 20 candidates by online voting, opinion survey and expert appraisal, according to the organization committee.

The award will be given annually in the future, said the committee

Harbin resumes water supply

Local workers take a sample from Harbin section of the Songhua River in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Nov. 27, 2005.(Xinhua photo)
HARBIN, Nov. 27 (Xinhuanet) -- Northeast Chinese city of Harbin resumed water supply at 6:00 p.m. Sunday, as Governor of Heilongjiang Province Zhang Zuoji took the first drink after resumption.

At the early period after resumption, the city will supply water intermittently, the government said.

During the peak hours in the morning and evening, the city will ensure a sufficient supply of water, but for other period of time,water supply will be controlled, it said.

:::::: Premier inspects water pollution in Harbin
:::::: 1,200 tons of active carbon absorbent shipped to Harbin
:::::: Petrochemical company blamed for river pollution
:::::: China pledges to minimize impact of river pollution on Russia
:::::: CNPC, Jilin apologize for river pollution
:::::: 100 tons of chemicals flowed into river
:::::: Polluted water unlikely to seriously affect rural life
:::::: Harbin to resume water supply after four days
:::::: Harbin on first day of water cut-off
:::::: Major river pollution confirmed in NE China
:::::: Harbin striving to cope with water stoppage
:::::: Main factories not to be affected by water supply cut-off in Harbin
:::::: Harbin to suspend water supply at wee hours Wednesday
Before the city recovers its full capacity of supplying water normally, the city will place some key sectors as priorities, including household use, enterprises, heating service departments,governmental departments, colleges and universities, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, primary and middle schools, and kindergartens.

While car washing and bathing service agencies are not allowed to use water for the time being, the government said.

The water quality at Sifangtai, the water source site in the upper reach of Harbin section of the Songhua River, has met the national standards from 8:00 p.m. on Saturday and the main pollution slick in the Songhua River has left the section of Harbin Sunday morning, according to local environmental authorities.

The city will launch a three-level warning forecast system of water quality after resumption to ensure public health, the city government said.

In the warning system, "red" means the water is not suitable for drinking nor using, "yellow" means the water is suitable for using but not for drinking, while "green" means that the water meets drinking standards.

The city will publish the water quality over local media to tell its citizens when they can use or drink water, the government said.

Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province and city of 3.8 million people, has been forced to shut down its water supply system from the wee hours of Wednesday because of a highly polluted water stretch in the Songhua River, which supplies most of the water to the populous city.

Toxic benzene and nitrobenzene flew into the Songhua River, following a blast with China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)Jilin Petrochemical company, a petrochemical plant in Jilin Province, a close neighbor of Heilongjiang Province, on Nov. 13.

Benzene is a clear, colorless, highly refractive flammable liquid that is derived from petroleum and used in or to manufacture a wide variety of chemical products, including detergents, insecticides and motor fuels

Rural Water Worries Persist After Chinese Chemical Spill

Published: November 27, 2005

SIFANTAI VILLAGE, China, Nov. 26 - Liu Shiying lifted the metal cover off the clay cistern in a corner of the bare kitchen and lowered a tin ladle into what remained of her water supply. Then she raised a scoop to her mouth.

"Do you think it smells?" she asked on Saturday, not taking a sip. "We're still drinking this. It is our only choice."

Ms. Liu lives in one of the dingy villages on the outskirts of Harbin, the provincial capital whose water supply had been shut off for four days to prevent contamination from a chemical spill that dumped a huge tide of pollution into the city's main water source, the Songhua River.

But on Saturday, as Harbin's four million residents learned that water would be restored by Sunday night, rural residents like Ms. Liu in the villages beside the Songhua got no such good news. Isolated and reachable only by rugged, dirt roads, these villages depend on underground wells or the river itself for drinking water. And as the pollution passed by, many villages never got the boxes of bottled water delivered to major cities like Harbin.

Environmental officials announced that the 50-mile slick of pollution had washed past Harbin by Saturday, clearing the way for officials to prepare to restart the water system. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao arrived in Harbin at midday to meet with city officials and to reassure local residents who had endured nearly a week with no running water.

[Later on Saturday, Mr. Wen issued an apology to Russia, into which the Songhua flows, for the spill, The Associated Press reported. The chemical slick is expected to reach there in about two weeks.]

Du Yuxin, the Communist Party secretary in Harbin, said the city had not received any reports of poisoning or other health-related problems from the spill, state news media reported. Mr. Du said local officials were consulting with China's Ministry of Construction to ensure that the system of underground water pipes could be safely reopened without risk of contamination. He predicted that water would be restored by 11 p.m. on Sunday.

"It is an urgent task to resume water supply," Mr. Du told the New China News Agency, "and we have been executing a detailed plan regarding resumption of water supply."

The pollution slick started on Nov. 13 after a petrochemical plant explosion spilled 100 tons of deadly benzene and nitrobenzene into the Songhua River. The factory is located in Jilin City, more than 200 miles upstream from Harbin, and the dangerous slick began steadily moving downstream. But factory executives and Jilin officials initially denied any pollution problems and waited for nearly a week to inform neighboring Heilongjiang Province, where Harbin is located.

Officials in Harbin also initially failed to inform residents of the pollution threat, announcing instead that the water system would be shut down for routine repairs. But that notice set off rising panic and wild rumors, including growing speculation that the local government had detected signs of an earthquake. Harbin officials responded with a new announcement confirming the chemical spill.

Environmental monitoring posts around Harbin found that pollution levels in Songhua had dropped almost to normal on Saturday as the slick moved past the city. But it is unclear whether the government plans extensive testing and cleanup efforts for the wells that supply the villages beside the river. Ms. Liu said the main well in Sifantai was about 100 yards from the Songhua. Several villagers said they were worried about contamination.

"We're concerned that we are so close to the river," said Tao Yunzhi, who lives in the village. "The polluted water gets in the well."

Ms. Liu said the local water had become cloudy in recent weeks and she could not tell whether it had changed, or become contaminated, as the pollution flowed by. On Friday, village officials finally turned off the faucets from the wells, but people continued drinking well water stored in pots and cisterns.

"No one was sending any water to us," Ms. Tao said. "We watched on television all the city people getting water delivered to their doors. Who cares about us village people?"

Earthquake Kills at Least 14

BEIJING, Nov. 26 (Agence France-Presse) - At least 14 people died, hundreds more were injured and thousands of houses collapsed Saturday when a magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck near Jiujiang, a popular tourist destination in east China, officials said.

The quake, which hit at 8:49 a.m., was felt in cities hundreds of miles away, according to the China National Seismic Observation Network.

Dying to breathe

More than 400,000 people die from pollution-related illnesses in China every year, putting Beijing under pressure to develop renewable energy. Dinah Gardner investigates Saturday, November 26, 2005
More than 400,000 people die from pollution-related illnesses in China every year, putting Beijing under pressure to develop renewable energy. Dinah Gardner investigates

A satellite photo of Beijing taken by United States space agency NASA earlier this month showed the capital and the area to its south covered in thick, grey sludge.

On that day - November 4 - the air pollution index recorded its worst reading in six months, mainland media reported. Suspended particulate levels reached a dangerous 300 micrograms per cubic meter.

"The effects of heavy pollution on health are big," the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said in a health warning at the time. The sky was covered in an oppressive blanket of pollution that obscured the outlines of buildings just 20 meters away. People complained of headaches and sore eyes, and were warned to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activity.

That high level of pollution is an increasingly common occurrence and just another sign of the dire state of the air in China.

"It can be safely assumed," the United Nations Development Program's China Human Development Report concluded in 2002, "that Chinese citizens are exposed to many of the worst air-pollution levels."

Suspended particulates in mainland cities are, on average, three times worse than the levels in London and Tokyo.

The government's environmental protection agency concludes that more than 400,000 people die from pollution- related illnesses in China every year.

Much of that comes from coal-fired power stations.

There are other major sources of pollution, too, as the events that unfolded in Harbin this week have demonstrated. A blast at a petrochemical factory in Jilin, 370km away, poured 100 tonnes of toxic sludge into the Songhua River that runs between the two cities. As the pollutants moved towards Harbin, the city authorities responded by shutting down water supplies for the three million inhabitants.

Beijing is making major commitments to improving the environment, including a push for renewable energy, says Yu Jie, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Beijing.

"There is domestic pressure on the government [to turn to renewables] as pollution increases - seven of the world's 10 most polluted cities are in China," Yu points out.

In February this year, the National People's Congress released a landmark renewable energy law, which will require grid operators to buy electricity from non-fossil fuel sources and will offer financial incentives to projects developing renewable energy.

The government boosted its target to renewable energy contributing 15 percent of energy produced by 2020, although it admits coal will remain its main source of power for years to come.

The target includes large hydropower - an energy source often not considered renewable because of the environmental damage it can inflict through dams.

Today, just seven percent of China's energy comes from renewables, including large hydropower. Excluding large hydropower, renewables make up about 3.5 percent. It is not just a desire to clean up its skies which is pushing China to develop renewable energy, says Yu.

Beijing is under pressure from the European Union and others to rein in its carbon dioxide production amid warnings it is likely to overtake the US and become the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases by 2020, she says.

With coal contributing about 70 percent of China's energy needs, coal- fired power stations are the main culprits behind carbon dioxide emissions and sulfur dioxide pollution.

"The average energy consumption per person is quite low in China - about one fifth of the world's average, but with a population of 1.3 billion the total amount is frightening in terms of the effect on climate change," Yu says.

Beijing also faces pressure to clean up its coal-mining sector given the industry's appalling safety record. Government figures put the number of miners dying on the job at 6,000 last year, although independent estimates are as high as 20,000.

But perhaps the biggest incentive driving China to exploit its sustainable energy resources is to feed its enormous appetite for power. The hunger for coal and oil seems insatiable and soaring oil prices, blamed in part by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Chinese demand, are also convincing it to pursue other sources of energy.

"A secure energy supply is crucial to China maintaining its economic growth," says Yu.

It is for this reason that industry experts believe Beijing is serious about renewable energy and is on track to be a world leader in sustainable energy technology.

"[The target] is certainly achievable - the issue is more whether the government will get behind it," says Chris Raczkowski, managing director of Azure International, an industry consultancy on sustainable energy.

"But it seems the government is serious - primarily because global energy markets are driving the industry. China does not have good natural resources, except for coal - which makes producing renewable energy attractive.

"Renewables are not a complete solution to its energy problem, but the government sees it as an incremental solution to reduce its dependence on energy imports."

Frederic Asseline, EU manager of renewable energy at the EU-China Energy and Environment Program, says he believes China is committed to greener power.

"This law was passed in record time and it has set the background against which more detailed regulations will be developed," Asseline says.

"This is somewhat atypical for China, where policies and regulations are usually tested first before being incorporated into a wider legislative framework.

"The proposed law has the potential to help China scale up its renewable energy industry in the relatively short term, and ambitious targets have been set by the NDRC [National Development and Reform Commission] for key renewable energy technologies."

The main drive in the expansion of green energy will be wind power and biomass, say experts.

Biomass is produced by burning wood and agricultural waste, either in their original form or by converting them into a liquid fuel such as ethanol first.

"Biomass and wind energy development are the two priority areas to build additional megawatts," says Asseline.

"And the potential for off-shore wind development in China is high."

Raczkowski says: "Many of the big turbine companies [such as Vestas and GE] have their main offices in Beijing and all are talking about localizing their business here.

"Wind is going to be the most predominant in terms of growth - especially in terms of commercial investment from overseas." According to Greenpeace, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association believes the country can develop a wind power capacity of 40 gigawatts by 2020, double its declared target.

This would be enough to meet the needs of around 60 million homes and is more than twice the installed capacity of the controversial Three Gorges Dam once it is finished.

Using wind power instead of fossil fuels to generate that amount of power would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 48 million tonnes - equivalent to all of Norway's emissions in a single year.

The potential is staggering, enthusiasts say. Greenpeace believes China has the capacity to generate 2,000 GW using present technology - four times the capacity of all the country's power stations put together now. Further, Yu says wind power is the way to go because it is more affordable than solar energy.

"The annual growth of wind power has been around 30 percent for the past few years and that's without government help. So with the help of this new law we see wind power as being the answer for China."

With a vast land area suitable for wind farms, China has the edge over cramped European countries when it comes to finding room for thousands of windmills

"It has the most potential, it can be very competitive compared with conventional power," Yu believes.

While initial investments remain high, Greenpeace estimates that with economies of scale and improved technology, by 2020 wind power will be cheaper to harness than burning coal.

Solar energy, Yu says, will be slower to develop because it's more expensive to exploit.

"It's at least twice as expensive as wind power," she says, adding that the technology is not yet there to make it competitive.

Even so, says Asseline, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology in China is growing rapidly.

"The market for PV in China could rapidly become the most important in the world," he says. "China is the world's leader in the production of solar water heaters, for example, which are used to supply hot water to both urban and rural households.

"The total installed capacity in 2005 reached about 70 million square meters of `collector' area. China has a solar water heater production capacity of over 16 million square meters per year."

Photovoltaic cells are also used in remote rural areas to provide power to communities cut off from the main grid and they can be installed on urban rooftops to provide power.

The mainland media reported recently that Shanghai aims to install PV systems on 100,000 rooftops - though that would still only provide enough energy to power the city for just under two days a year.

Taken together, sun, wind and biomass can drive China to become a world leader in renewable energy. "[The] potential is considerable and installed capacity could rapidly surpass levels reached elsewhere in the world with the proper incentives in place," says Asseline.

The key is to attract investment in the sector. Good intentions are not enough.

Beijing must enforce regulations to require power companies to buy a certain proportion of energy from renewable sources and set tariffs to encourage investment in sustainable energy, says Asseline.

The new renewable energy law comes into effect on January 1 and energy campaigners say it is crucial that the momentum for better air is sustained.

Over the next 30 years, China will make up 20 percent of the world's growth in energy demand and half of the increase in coal use, according to the IEA.

As a result, Yu says, it cannot afford to fall short on renewable energy.

If Beijing fails, says Yu, "the cost to the environment and public health will cripple China."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Man sues over Harbin toxic spill

BEIJING, China (CNN),Saturday, November 26, 2005 Posted: 0650 GMT -- Chinese government officials appear ready to punish those responsible for a 100-tonne benzene spill into a river, which has disrupted water service in a city of 9 million people, while a Harbin city resident has filed a suit against a petroleum company over the incident.

Ding Ning, a resident of the Chinese city of Harbin, filed the suit on Thursday against Jilin Petrochemical Company, a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation, in the court of Nangang District of Harbin, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Jilin Petrochemical owns a plant where an explosion took place on November 13, spilling the benzene into the Songhua River.

The blast also killed five people and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

The plant is in Jilin, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) southeast of Harbin. Used in gasoline, benzene is a cancer-causing substance.

The 80 kilometer (50-mile) toxic spill flowed downstream, reaching Harbin this week. Officials were forced to cut off the city's water service for four days, and the spill has sparked widespread unease among residents, who were not notified of the potential health threat for days after the blast.

One Chinese newspaper reported that environmental protection officials discharged water from a reservoir into the river to dilute the spill and failed to warm the public, although the government disputes those allegations.

Beijing on Friday stepped up its investigation of the spill, sending teams of investigators to Harbin.

The teams included disciplinary officials, Xinhua reported -- a possible signal that criminal charges or punishment could be pending.

"It's clear who's responsible for this accident," said Zhang Lujin, deputy director of the state Environmental Protection Agency. "Jilin Chemical Company is mainly responsible for this pollution accident."

The United Nations on Friday said a U.N. environmental team was on standby to help Chinese and Russian authorities with the river contamination, including an environmental assessment or technical support.

But the U.N. said no request for help had been received. The U.N. said its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' Environment Unit was monitoring the situation and "remains in close contact with a number of potential donor governments and other relevant partners" including the U.N.'s World Health Organization.

In his lawsuit against the company, Ding accuses Jilin Petrochemical of contaminating the river "and greatly affecting the normal life of Harbin residents," Xinhua reported.

His suit seeks a compensation of 15 yuan -- less than $2 -- and a formal apology from the corporation.

Ding told Xinhua that the life of Harbin citizens was disrupted by the sudden water cutoff, as many scrambled to stockpile bottled water. Schools were closed, and hotels stopped operating temporarily.

"A formal apology would be valued by me and my fellow residents," he said. "The monetary compensation is only symbolic."

Zeng Yukang, deputy general manager of China National Petroleum Corporation, issued a public apology Thursday for the spill. But Ding maintained an apology after a court ruling remained necessary. (Full story)

The toxic portion of the river is expected to be past Harbin by later Saturday. Government officials have been adding water to the river in an attempt to dilute the spill, and installing charcoal filters.

Harbin, however, endured a third day without water service on Friday, and residents -- many of whom had to rise early to find bottled water -- were frustrated.

"How can we not feel tired?" one 65-year-old man asked. "We have to get up to fetch water so early."

The poisoned water is headed towards Russia, where preparations were being made for its arrival.

Meanwhile, a Thursday explosion at a chemical plant in Chongquing city raised new concerns about another potential health hazard.

Xinhua reported the blast killed one person and injured three, and prompted the evacuation of 6,000 students and residents. It remained under investigation, the news agency said.

Russia may sue China for toxic spill damages - MP

MOSCOW, November 25 (RIA Novosti) - Russia might sue China for damages in connection with the toxic leak caused by a chemicals blast in the northeastern province of Jilin November 13, a Russian lawmaker said Friday.

Viktor Shudegov, Chair of the Environment, Education and Science Committee in the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, said Beijing must compensate Russia for the damage caused by the accident at its Jilin chemical plant.

He said "Russia should file specific lawsuits" with international courts of justice.

The lawmaker warned that the contamination of the Amur River as a result of a cancer-causing benzene spill into its Chinese tributary, Songhua, would inflict severe damage on the eco-system of Russia's Far East and necessitate cutoffs of drinking water to millions of residents.

Shudegov also stressed the importance of quickly passing a federal bill on compulsory insurance against environmental hazards, currently being drafted by his committee.

If the bill becomes law, he said, it is insurance companies, not regional governments, that will have to cover expenses arising from environmental hazards.

Friday, November 25, 2005

UK expects more co-op with China in water supplies

CHONGQING, Nov. 24 (Xinhuanet) -- The United Kingdom water supplies delegation expresses hearty wishes to strengthen cooperation with its Chinese counterpart on an inspection tour in southwest China Thursday.

"The water supplies industry is one of the five key industries in which China and the United Kingdom have established trade partnership," said an official of the 12-member delegation during the two-day visit to Chongqing Municipality in southwest China.

On the meeting held by the municipal government, the delegates introduced their capacity and successful experience in the industry of water supplies. The two sides also talked about business cooperation in the future.

This tour will bring more business opportunities for the United Kingdom to cooperate with Chinese cities in water supplies, said Rich Wood, an official with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom.

Prior to Chongqing, the delegation visited Beijing and Tianjin Municipality in northern China and it will next head for Shenzhen,a special economic zone in south China, for an inspection visit.

China Blames Oil Company for Benzene Spill in River

Published: November 25, 2005


HARBIN, China, Nov. 24 - The Chinese government on Thursday blamed the country's biggest oil company for a pollution spill that allowed a 50-mile slick of toxic benzene to reach this northern city of almost four million people on the river that normally supplies it with running water.

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Soldiers in Harbin, in northeast China, checked water supplies on Tuesday. Millions of people there are expected to be without running water for days after a chemical explosion poured benzene into a river nearby.

Residents continued to stockpile bottled drinking water on Thursday, the second day after the authorities shut down the municipal water system and stopped pumping from the Songhua River to minimize the risk of poisoning.

Schools and many businesses remained closed, and restaurants in the city center were mostly empty late Thursday as the environmental disaster led the authorities to mount an investigation that could prompt a criminal charges.

Authorities in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, assured residents that adequate supplies of drinking water would be trucked in and warned them to watch for the symptoms of benzene poisoning.

They said that the slick was expected to have passed the city by Saturday and that normal water service could resume by Sunday.

China has also warned Russia about the toxic spill, which is being carried toward Khabarovsk, on Russia's border.

An explosion on Nov. 13 at a China National Petroleum Corporation plant in Jilin Province, 236 miles upriver from Harbin, spewed an estimated 100 tons of benzene compounds into the Songhua River, Chinese authorities said.

The state news media reported that five people had been killed in the blast, which was a few hundred yards from the riverbank. As many as 10,000 people were temporarily evacuated.

"We will be very clear about who's responsible," said Zhang Lijun, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, at a news conference in Beijing. "It is the chemical plant of the C.N.P.C. in Jilin Province," he said, referring to China National Petroleum.

Mr. Zhang said the investigation would consider whether there was any criminal liability for the spill.

PetroChina Company, a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Petroleum listed in New York and Hong Kong, is responsible for the company's domestic petrochemical production, the China National Petroleum Web site says. China National Petroleum holds 90 percent of PetroChina's shares.

The official New China News Agency reported that China National Petroleum had apologized. The company "deeply regrets" the spill and will take responsibility for handling the consequences, the deputy general manager, Zeng Yukang, was quoted as saying. The vice governor of Jilin Province, Jiao Zhengzhong, also apologized to the people of Harbin, The Beijing News reported Thursday.

The contamination of one of China's major rivers has drawn attention to the environmental price that the country is paying for a three-decade economic boom. Living standards have sharply risen in many regions of China, particularly the provinces on the east coast, but severe environmental degradation threatens further development.

China's major cities are among the most polluted in the world, and vast tracts of farmland are being lost to erosion, desertification and industry.

However, the pollution of vital rivers, lakes and groundwater in China, which is already short of water, looms as the biggest immediate threat, environmental specialists say.

Even before the benzene spill, the Songhua River had serious problems with water quality, the Asian Development Bank said.

The bank is helping local authorities develop plans for pollution control on the river.

The environmental impact of development is also leading China's authoritarian government to become increasingly open with a public that has become more vocal about pollution and ill-considered industrial projects. Private environmental organizations are flourishing and have occasionally persuaded authorities to block development or revise development plans.

Provincial and central government environmental agencies reported that benzene and nitrobenzene contamination much higher than allowed levels had been detected upstream from Harbin.

The official China Daily reported Thursday that specialists had said that the authorities had no choice but to cut water supplies to the city.

"Harbin's move to cut off the water supply was not a knee-jerk reaction," Zhang Lanying, an environmental specialist at Jilin University, was quoted as saying.

"If the contaminated water had been supplied to households, the result would have been unimaginable."

The spill could also have diplomatic repercussions as it heads toward the point where the Songhua River joins the Heilongjiang River, which then crosses the Russian border in the region of Khabarovsk, about 340 miles from Harbin.

Russian officials have begun testing water in the Heilongjiang River. Senior Chinese officials rejected suggestions that it had been unfair to wait until this week to inform Russia about the spill.

Mr. Zhang, from the Environmental Protection Administration, said it would be another 14 days before the contamination reached the Heilongjiang. "So we don't think we were late in providing information," he said.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said that the Russian Embassy in Beijing was briefed twice this week and that the two sides had set up a hot line to share information.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

CNPC official apologizes for river pollution

Deputy general manager of China National Petroleum Corp.(CNPC) Zeng Yukang expressed his sincere sympathy and deep apologies to the residents of northeast China's Heilongjiang province, for the pollution of the Songhua River caused by the blast in a chemical plant under the CNPC Jilin Petrochemical Company. The State Environment Protection Administration confirmed Wednesday that pollutants containing benzene and nitrobenzene contaminated the Songhua River after a chemical-plant blast at the upper reaches in Northeast China. HARBIN, Nov. 24 (Xinhuanet) -- Deputy general manager of China National Petroleum Corp.(CNPC) Zeng Yukang expressed his sincere sympathy and deep apologies to the residents of northeast China's Heilongjiang province, for the pollution of the Songhua River caused by the blast in a chemical plant under the CNPC Jilin Petrochemical Company.

Zeng, who is also director of Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau, came to Harbin on Wednesday, heading a drilling crew whichis to dig 100 deep groundwater wells for universities and collegesas well as water and heat suppliers in the city.

He made an apology on behalf of the CNPC to residents along the Songhua River on the pollution of the major city water source, saying that it is CNPC's duty to help treat the pollution, according to the city government of Harbin on Thursday.

The blast took place at about 1:45 p.m. on Nov. 13 in a workshop of the No. 101 Chemical Plant under the CNPC Jilin Petrochemical Company based in Jilin City, some 100 km east to Changchun, the provincial capital. Five people were killed and about 70 people were injured.

Jilin, PetroChina apologize for chemical spill

BEIJING, Nov. 24 -- The Party head of Jilin City, where a chemical plant exploded on November 13, and the plant's owner, PetroChina Company Ltd, have apologized to Harbin citizens for the contamination of the Songhua River, the main water supply point for Harbin, Beijing News reported today.

The Harbin government cut the city's water supply for four days because of fears of contamination and schools there have been shut until next Wednesday.

PetroChina has offered 60 water tankers to Harbin and helped to dig wells for ground water.

People in Jilin Province seldom drink water from the Songhua, but 90 percent of the drinking water in Harbin comes from it, said Zhai Pingyang, an official of Heilongjiang environment institute.

He said many chemical plants beside the Songhua in Jilin Province had been pouring polluted water into the river for decades and the two provinces had negotiated about the situation many times.

(Source: Shanghai Daily)

Russia environment officials fear water pollution following China accident

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AFX) - Russian officials said they have started monitoring water content in the Amur river on the border between the Russian far east and China, fearing contamination after toxic substances were discovered in a Chinese tributary of the Amur. The step was taken following the announcement Monday that the water supply had been discontinued in the nine mln strong Chinese city of Harbin near the border after toxic substances, probably benzol, were found in the Songhua Jiang river, officials said, according to Agence France-Presse. This followed a blast at the Jilin Petroleum and Chemical Company petrochemical plant, located in the Harbin region. The Songhua Jiang river (called Sungari in Russia) is the main source of drinking water for the Russian city of Khabarovsk, home to 600,000 residents, just across the Chinese border.

Toxic leak threat to Chinese city

BBC news:
Chinese soldiers transfer drinking water to a warehouse in Harbin
Thousands of tons of water are being shipped in by road
Major pollution of a river has forced the suspension of water supplies to the northern Chinese city of Harbin, home to 3.4m people, authorities have said.

"Benzene levels were 108 times above national safety levels," said China's Environment Protection Administration.

The contamination after an accident at a chemical plant is expected to pass through Harbin on the Songhua river for the next two days, officials said.

Some schools and businesses have closed and flights out of Harbin are sold out.

"Everyone wants to leave Harbin and it is very difficult to buy tickets," a factory manager told Reuters.

Benzene is a highly poisonous toxin that is also carcinogenic.

13 November Explosion at petrochemical plant, Jilin city
21 Nov Water to Harbin city cut off; local government cites mains maintenance
22 Nov State media say water could have been contaminated after the blast
23 Nov Authorities admit very high levels of benzene have been found in the water

Fifteen hospitals have been placed on stand-by to cope with possible poisoning victims.

Officials are also on alert in Russian towns further down the river.

More than 16,000 tons of drinking water is being brought into Harbin by road, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said - though this is less than Harbin's residents normally use in a day.


The government initially said the stoppage would last four days, but a water company official has told the BBC there is no set timetable for the resumption of supplies.

Capital of Heilongjiang province
Strong Russian influence
Hosts annual ice festival

BBC Beijing correspondent Louisa Lim says residents of Harbin distrust government statements, having originally been told the stoppage was for routine maintenance.

The initial announcement of water stoppages led to panic buying of water and food, exhausting supermarket supplies and sending prices soaring.

"The city was full of ridiculously large queues. People were buying water in massive quantities," English teacher Craig Hutchinson told the BBC News website.

Other residents told the BBC they felt more inconvenienced than worried.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

26 Laws on Environmental Protection Enacted

2005-11-21 20:40:11 Xinhua News

China's top legislature, or the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), has approved 13 international conventions on environmental protection and enacted 26 laws in this respect over the last 20 years.

The figures were released from an on-going international forum on environmental protection legislation and sustainable development, sponsored by the NPC's Environment and Resources Protection Committee.

Mao Rubai, chairman of the NPC's Environment and Resources Protection Committee, said China would further improve the legislation on environmental protection in the future so as to promote sustainable development.

He noted that the legislation objectives will be shifted from the protection of certain aspects of the environment to the protection of the whole ecological system.

Recycling economy, biological diversity. resources saving and poisonous waste disposal will become the legislation focus in the future, Mao said.

Officials from a dozen countries including China, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Asia Development Bank, the Republic of Korea, the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany and Australia, attended the forum.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Water supply stoppage in Harbin sparks panic buying

By Li Fangchao (China Daily)Updated: 2005-11-22 06:05

HARBIN: An unexpected stoppage of water supply sparked rumours of a contaminated river and led to a run on city supermarkets storing bottled water yesterday.

Bottled water is sold out in almost all supermarkets and shops as Harbin citizens rushed to stock up following the government announcement about a cut in water supply. [China Daily]
Starting from noon today, the city's water supply will be cut off for four days, said a statement issued by the municipal government of the capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.

It is the first time that water supply will be cut off citywide for so long. Harbin, the province's economic, cultural and political center, has a population of about 4 million (excluding the suburban areas), according to Harbin statistical information network.

"To ensure the safety of water, the municipal government has decided to thoroughly check the city's water supply system and cut off supply temporarily," it said.

The government announcement begins with a mention of the powerful blasts at Jilin petrochemical plant on November 13. It states that the current monitoring of water quality of the Songhua River shows normalcy, but it is predicted that water body of the river could be polluted by water from the upper reaches. The lack of details led to swirling rumours that the water in Songhua River, which supplies the city, was contaminated as a result of a chemical-plant blast on November 13.

The common refrain was that the explosion at Jilin city of neighbouring Jilin Province on the upper reaches of Songhua River may have caused a leakage of poisonous substances into the river as it is only a few hundred metres away from the plant. Harbin is located at the middle reaches of the river.

But an official with the Harbin municipal government, who did not want to be named, dismissed the assumption as "just a rumour."

Harbin Water Supply Company refused to comment but sources at the municipal environment bureau said that there was nothing abnormal with the quality of water in the river.

In corroboration, Jilin said that the local environment bureau found that the water quality was barely affected after the blast.

Water supply to some parts of Harbin was already cut off at around 4 pm yesterday and anxious residents thronged supermarkets and shops to buy whatever they could lay their hands on.

Bottled mineral water, beverages, and even milk were sold out in big supermarkets such as WalMart and Carrefour.

"People started to pour in from 1 pm," said Zhang Ping, an employee at Century Mart, a chain supermarket. "By 3 or 4 pm, all the drinks were sold out," she said.

"I heard the news from a friend, so I hurried here," said Zhang Xiaoming, a saleswoman, who was carrying three boxes of bottled water in her cart. "But I don't think there are enough."

Prices of bottled water have risen sharply. For example, the wholesale price for Chunzhongchun, a local brand, has doubled from 0.5 yuan (6 US cents) to 1 yuan (12 US cents) a bottle.

The municipal government has ordered all bathhouses and car-wash facilities to stop operations during the four days.

It also ordered the city's administration of industry and commerce, the price bureau and police to strengthen surveillance over the market and maintain social order

Monday, November 21, 2005

Italy backs Beijing's solar power project for Olympics

BEIJING, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- Italy will help Beijing build a solar energy system for the city's Olympic Village, supplying hot water and electricity for the Games in 2008 and beyond.

CorradoClini, a top official from the Italian Ministry for the Environment, said Italy will invest a total of 4 million euros (4.7 million US dollars) in the project, according to Monday's China Daily.

The solar energy system will be jointly constructed by the Guoao Investment and Development Co. Ltd of China, and Italy's Merloni TermoSanitari International Trading Co. Ltd.

The project will supply hot water and electricity to 16,000 people during the Games. After the event, the system will supply 2,000 apartments, housing around 6,000 people, the China Daily reported.

The project is one of the co-operative projects included in a Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Co-operation signed between the Italian ministry and Beijing's municipal government in2002.

It will "help Beijing fulfill its commitment to the Green Olympics," said Pei Chenghu, vice-director of Beijing's Environmental Protection Bureau.

However, solar energy will not be the only energy source for the Olympic Village, and other energy supply systems are prepared,Clini said.

Since 2002, Italy has invested nearly 40 million euros (47 million US dollars) in helping Beijing improve its environment in 17 projects, the newspaper said.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

China ready to strengthen int'l cooperation in environmental protection

BEIJING, Nov. 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan said China will further increase international exchange and cooperation in the fields of environment and development for mutual benefit and win-win results.

Zeng made the remark here Friday at the opening of the Fourth Session of the Third Meeting of China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, which was presided over by Xie Zhenhua, minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

China regards resources-efficiency and environmental protection as a fundamental state policy, said the vice premier, who is a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.

In the 2006-2010 period, China will try to meet the requirements of a scientific concept of development by changing modes of economic growth, making active efforts to develop a recycling economy, speeding up the building of a resource-efficient and environment-friendly society, and maintaining coordination between economic development and population, resources, and environment, according to the official.

As the largest developing country, Zeng said, China will solve the issues of environment and development, which will benefit its own 1.3 billion population and make enormous contribution to the world's sustainable development as well.

Zeng said China is willing to increase international cooperation environmental projects, technology, capacity and research, and he urged developed nations to increase their financial and technical assistance to developing countries including China in the field of environmental protection.

Friday, November 18, 2005

China reports two new bird flu outbreaks

Shanghai. November 18. INTERFAX-CHINA - The Chinese government reported Thursday two new bird flu outbreaks in Hubei and Xinjiang provinces, raising the number of bird flu cases in the country to 13 in a month.

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture reported 662 birds were found dead in Hubei province's Xiaogan city and 32 birds were also found dead in Hetian county of Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

A total of 2,722 birds in Xinjiang and 86,215 birds in Hubei have been culled within three kilometers of the outbreak sites, the statement said.

China's National Bird Flu Reference Laboratory confirmed the bird deaths in Hubei and Xinjiang were caused by the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus, the ministry said.

China confirmed on Wednesday night the country's first two human bird flu cases ?a woman who died and a boy who recovered earlier this month.

During a press conference held yesterday afternoon, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it is unnecessary for the government to hide the epidemic and denied the rumor of 300 human bird flu cases in China.

The ministry also said the local governments have adopted emergency measures including quarantines and disinfections to control the bird flu epidemic.

WHO: China faces challenges in bird flu control

BEIJING, Nov. 18 -- The World Health Organization said Thursday it does not expect a large number of people to be infected with bird flu in China, one day after the government reported the country's first two human cases.

But the WHO said China faces special challenges in fighting the spread of bird flu despite the "impressive" government commitment. The fact China has reported human cases does not increase the risk of the disease becoming a pandemic but there could be more human cases than authorities know about, Henk Bekedam, the head of WHO's office in China, told a news conference.

"That's always of course long as there are poultry outbreaks, people will be exposed to the virus. You can expect that people might get infected," Bekedam said.

"On the other hand, I would like to stress...the current virus is not easily transmittable to humans. We don't expect a large number of cases."

He said the WHO was confident with the government's "strong" response and political commitment, especially a visit by Premier Wen Jiabao to an outbreak area recently. But Bekedam added: "China has many challenges. China has a large poultry population of 14 billion and 70 percent of that poultry is being kept in the backyard."

Outbreaks in these small family farms might be reported "a bit late" and it is difficult to monitor poultry there, he said.

Difficulties are compounded by the country's vast size and the fact that it is normal for some poultry to die in farms, Bekedam said.

Another challenge is that some poor farmers, lacking awareness, sometimes eat the diseased poultry.

The key for China was to properly compensate farmers so they will not hide outbreaks to avoid mandatory culls, and to keep track of the virus.

(Source: AFP/Xinhua)