Commentary: Cover-up can't hide murky water truth
(China Daily)
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 explosion.

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 truth.

We sincerely hope that no cover-up of a similar nature occurs again in the future.

(China Daily 11/25/2005 page4)

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