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Russia moves to calm fears over China toxic spill
Updated: 2005-11-27 09:40

KHABAROVSK, Russia (AFP) - Russia authorities have moved to calm fears of a public health crisis as a toxic benzene spill from China drifted down a river toward Russia, saying there would be plenty of advance notice and plenty of fresh water on hand when the poison slick arrived.

China meanwhile extended its "deep apologies" to Russia for the contamination, inviting Russian experts to carry out their own tests on the spill still in Chinese territory and offering to help deal with the consequences in Russia's Far East region, Russian news agencies reported Sunday.

President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the Far East, Kamil Iskhakov, told regional media outlets that there was no reason for residents living along the Amur river, known as the Heilong river in China, to panic.

"We will know at least a week before the chemical spill reaches Khabarovsk," a city of 650,000 people situated downstream from the spill, Iskhakov said.

"We already know how we will ensure a steady supply of water and it will be distributed for free," he said, adding that local authorities throughout the region would also make sure there was no price gouging by private grocery stores in the region.

An extra 400,000 liters of bottled water was currently stocked in the Khabarovsk region and in the coming three days an additional 1.4 million liters were to be delivered, according to the a statement from the Khabarovsk regional administration's food safety inspectorate.

Officials said predictions on the impact of the spill ranged widely, the most pessimistic being that water with benzene levels up to seven times above norms would reach water treatment plants and the most optimistic forecasting a much more diluted concentration that would bypass the plants.

Russia's Rosgidromet meteorological and environmental service late Friday said the concentration of benzene would be well below maximum acceptable levels by the time the spill reached Khabarovsk and would pose virtually no threat to human health, news agencies reported.

The 80-kilometer-long (50-mile-long) belt of toxic benzene, created after an explosion at a chemical plant in China on November 13, was expected to flow downstream Saturday and past northeast China's Harbin city, where public water supplies were expected to resume on Sunday.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing meanwhile met in Beijing with the Russian ambassador and afterwards extended China's "deep apologies" for the accident, Russian news agencies reported from Beijing.

"The Chinese side is prepared to show solidarity with Russia in liquidating the effects of this environmental pollution," the reports quoted Li as saying.

The Chinese foreign ministry also gave its go-ahead for Russian experts to visit the affected area in China to carry out their own analyses, they added.

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