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Apology for late pollution report

Updated: 2013-01-08 01:11
By WANG QIAN in Beijing and SUN RUISHENG in Changzhi, Shanxi ( China Daily)

Mayor of city in Shanxi issues statement after river chemical spill

Authorities in Changzhi have apologized for a five-day delay in reporting a chemical spill that threatened supplies of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people.

Zhang Bao, mayor of the city in Shanxi province, issued the apology at a news conference on Monday.

He said the city government had initially been told that an estimated 1.5 metric tons of aniline had leaked from a ruptured valve at a site run by the Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group into the Zhuozhang River on Dec 31.

Officials had underestimated the potential damage that quantity could cause, he said. However, when the spill was fully investigated it was found to be closer to 9 tons with another 30 tons spilling into a disused reservoir.

Changzhi authorities then immediately reported the spill to the Shanxi government on Saturday, five days after the incident.

They also informed the downstream cities of Handan in Hebei province and Anyang in Henan province.

Chen Jianwen, general manager of the Tianji plant, was sacked on Sunday, as were deputy manager Ren Yongjie and two other officials.

Residents of Handan did not know about the accident until their water was cut off on Saturday afternoon. Authorities terminated the supply to avoid possible pollution of the Yuecheng Reservoir. An official in Hebei told China Daily dead fish were discovered on Friday in the reservoir.

Handan authorities issued a public statement late on Saturday and the water supply was restored using groundwater on Sunday.

Health experts criticized Changzhi authorities for the delay in reporting the accident because aniline may be carcinogenic.

"Aniline is a toxic substance," said Xia Zhaolin, a professor at Fudan University's School of Public Health. "A lethal dose for humans is 4 grams."

The aniline level in the river was 2.15 milligrams per liter on Sunday, down from a peak of 72 mg per liter immediately after the leak, according to Liu Dashan, spokesman for Shanxi’s environmental protection bureau.

But the river water is still not safe to drink. The national standard allows less than 0.1 mg per liter of aniline. Aniline can be a clear or slightly yellow liquid with a sharp odor.

"Dealing with the leak will be a great challenge," Xia said.

Hu Sanhu, publicity director for the Changzhi authorities, said no people or livestock had been affected by the pollution because large sections of the Zhuozhang River were coated in ice and livestock were unable to drink from it.

Liu Donghua, a spokeswoman for the Handan Water Supply Co, said it monitored water quality every day and found no excessive level of pollutants.

China National Radio reported on Monday that Jin Xiaohong, a 46-year-old shepherd from Nanzhuang village, close to the source of the leak, said several ewes had miscarried after drinking river water that had not been frozen over.

However, tests did not confirm any link to the leak.