A third major toxic spill in China in as many months has threatened water supplies to millions of residents of two central cities, officials and state media said yesterday.
A clean-up accident allowed the chemical cadmium, which can cause neurological disorders and cancer, to flood out of a smelting works and into the Xiangjiang River in Hunan Province on Jan. 4, Xinhua news agency said.
The river supplies tap water to residents in the provincial capital Changsha, which has about 6 million people, and nearby Xiangtan city, which has 700,000 inhabitants.
Officials said they have taken emergency measures and residents were not in danger.
Local authorities have blocked off the spill and are trying to neutralize the cadmium slick with different chemicals and dilute it by releasing water from a dam.
"Even though this pollution incident is not over, there's no impact on residents' lives," said an officer surnamed Zhou at the Changsha city government's office.
"The water being supplied by the water treatment plants is still up to standard," he added.
A spokesman from Xiangtan government also gave similar assurances.
Xinhua said the amount of cadmium in the river reached 25.6 times above safe levels at its peak but had dropped to 0.14 times on Saturday.
Officials said they did not have to shut off water supplies as measures they took were effective and water treatment plants were able to filter out the pollution.
Local residents, including hotels in Xiangtan, also said there was no disruption to their supply.
However several residents said they did not know about the spill, which was not reported on Xinhua, the main government mouthpiece, until Saturday night. It was not clear whether local media had reported it earlier.
The incident follows a cadmium spill in southern China's Guangdong Province which cut tap water supply to tens of thousands of people for more than a week last month.
In November, a toxic benzene slick from a factory explosion in northeast China polluted the Songhua River and cut tap water to millions of city-dwellers in Heilongjiang Province.
The spills have focused attention on water pollution in a country where millions still lack safe drinking water and most rivers are polluted by industrial waste.
The latest accident occurred due to human error, the director of Hunan Province's environmental protection bureau was quoted as saying.
The Zhuzhou Water Conservancy Investment Co caused the spill while it was trying to clear silt out of Xiawan Harbor in Zhuzhou city, where the smelter is located upstream from Xiangtan and Changsha, he said.
The cadmium-contaminated water collected in two lakes which then overflowed into the river.
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