5 officials found guilty over Taihu Lake

By Zheng Lifei and Zhang Kun (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-06-12 06:58

SHANGHAI: Five officials have been punished for their failure to stop companies from discharging untreated sewage into Taihu Lake, where a massive algae outbreak left the people of Wuxi without tap water for a week earlier this month.

The five officials from Yixing, a county under the jurisdiction of Wuxi, an industrial and tourism city in East China's Jiangsu Province, were either removed or demoted on charges of dereliction of duty for allowing the companies to discharge wastewater into the lake.

The effluent is believed to have contributed to China's third largest freshwater lake becoming covered in a blanket of blue-green algae. The algae outbreak was also a result of last month's unusually warm weather and the low water level in the lake. It focused the local authority's attention on the need to clean up the polluted lake.

Since May 30, 439 companies have been inspected for their sewage discharges. Twenty-two were found to have violated the rules and have been ordered to improve their systems, according to a local environment watchdog in Wuxi.

But a China Central Television Station (CCTV) report on June 3 revealed that some companies in Yixing were continuing to discharge untreated industrial wastewater into Taihu, sparking public outrage.

"The companies' defiance of (environment) laws and the practice of discharging polluted water reflects a lax attitude on the part of some government agencies and that constitutes dereliction of duty," the Wuxi municipal government said in a circular.

The five officials include three environmental protection officers, including a deputy director of Yixing's environment protection agency.

"Meanwhile, Chaohu Lake, China's fifth-largest freshwater lake, was also found to have been hit by similar algae outbreak recently, the circular said.

The western part of the lake, which is located in East China's Anhui Province and covers 753 sq km, is now covered by the blue algae canopy, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

But the algae blanket is unlikely to spread to the whole lake, Xinhua quoted Zhang Zhiyuan, chief engineer of the Anhui provincial environmental protection bureau, as saying.

"Thanks to the recent rainfall that has diluted the lake, the algae has been notably curbed," Zhang said.

In another develoment, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) said in a survey that drinking water from Taihu Lake will not increase the risk of cancer.

The SEPA tested the lake's water after a flood of text messages swept over Wuxi claiming the water was "life-threatening".

(China Daily 06/12/2007 page4)

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