Commentary: Cover-up can't hide murky water truth
Updated: 2005-11-25 06:00
With confirmation by the State Environmental Protection Administration that
the Songhua River has been contaminated by benzene and nitrobenzene, action by
Harbin municipal government has proven to be timely and necessary.
As the contaminated swathe of water approached the capital city of
Heilongjiang Province, local residents finally heard an apology from
neighbouring Jilin Province, where an explosion in a chemical plant belonging to
Jilin Petrochemical Corporation on November 13 caused the problem.
A delegation headed by Jiao Zhengzhong, vice-governor of Jilin Province and
Party secretary of the city of Jilin where the chemical plant is located, came
to Harbin on Wednesday to apologize to local residents. The delegation has
brought with it 71 tons of mineral water to atone for the inconvenience the
pollution has brought to Harbin residents.
Zeng Yukang, director of Daqing Petroleum Administration, also in the
delegation, apologized on behalf of the China National Petroleum Corporation
(CNPC) to Harbin's residents.
Both Jilin Petrochemical Corporation and Daqing Petroleum Administration are
under the auspice of CNPC.
However, the Jilin corporation denied the pollution of river water three days
ago. It said that the explosion produced only carbon dioxide and water, which
would definitely cause no pollution to the water of the Songhua River, according
to a report by China Business News on Tuesday.
It also promised it had a sewage treatment plant and it did not discharge any
untreated water into the river, the report said.
In the same report, an anonymous source from the Jilin provincial government
revealed that the river was indeed contaminated by a toxic spill from the
People cannot help but doubt that the Jilin corporation was trying to cover
up the truth. A local report says the benzene and nitrobenzene from the
explosion were washed down into the river by the water from the fire engines.
This has further deepened people's suspicion that the corporation would have
known about the pollution immediately after the explosion.
A spokesman from Heilongjiang Environmental Protection Bureau said at a news
conference on Wednesday that on November 20, the level of benzene and
nitrobenzene was checked at the border between the two provinces, and found to
be much higher than the State standard.
Even then, the authorities of the corporation bluntly denied that the river
water had been contaminated.
A spokesman from the State Environmental Protection Administration said
yesterday at a news conference that Jilin Province and Jilin Petrochemical
Corporation had adopted timely measures to stop the toxic spill from being
discharged into the river immediately after the explosion.
This shows that the corporation knew very clearly about the contamination and
its possible result but still wanted to keep the secret to itself.
Leaders from the Jilin provincial government and Daqing Petroleum
Administration apologized for the contamination of river water and for the
inconvenience and losses the pollution has inflicted on Harbin's residents. But
they never apologized for the hiding of truth.
We do not know what is behind the cover-up. It might be because they were
afraid that they would have to pay money for the losses the pollution has
incurred in Harbin, and it might be because they were afraid of losing face.
But the fact is they have brought shame on themselves by covering up the
We sincerely hope that no cover-up of a similar nature occurs again in the
(China Daily 11/25/2005 page4)