Sun, Dec 18, 2005 - Page 5 News List

China dam aims to stop toxic water

MAKING AMENDS Beijing is building a dam and supplying carbon for filtration in an attempt to ease tensions with an important trading partner


China is building a temporary dam in an effort to reduce the impact of a toxic spill flowing along a river toward a city in the Russian Far East, the government said yesterday.

Beijing also said it is sending a second shipment of carbon to the Russian border city of Khabarovsk for use in filtering water.

The temporary dam and carbon shipments are part of Chinese efforts to ease strains with Moscow over the slick caused by a Nov. 13 explosion at a chemical plant in China's northeast.

Work began Friday to dam the waterway along the Heilong River, which forms the Chinese-Russian border and is carrying the spill toward Khabarovsk, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The waterway links the Heilong to the Wusuli River, which also supplies water to Khabarovsk, and authorities hope to shield the Wusuli from pollution.

Moscow said Friday the spill has reached Russian territory, flowing from China's Songhua River into the Heilong.

It is expected to hit Khabarovsk on Wednesday or Thursday, according to Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry.

"The temporary dam will be removed after the pollutant slick passes Khabarovsk along the Heilong River," Xinhua said. "China will bear the cost for the construction and demolition of the dam."

The spill was a diplomatic disaster for President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) government, straining relations with Moscow, China's main foreign arms supplier and an important source of oil for the energy-hungry Chinese economy.

The chemical plant explosion in the Chinese city of Jilin spewed 90 tonnes of benzene, nitrobenzene and other toxins into the Songhua.

The general manager of the government company that owns the plant was removed from his post. China's chief environmental regulator resigned after his agency was accused of failing to detect and take action on the spill quickly enough.

Beijing has launched an investigation of the explosion and spill, promising to punish anyone responsible.

Local Communist Party officials in China's northeast were accused of endangering public safety by trying to conceal the spill but there has been no indication that they might be punished.

The government didn't announce that the Songhua was poisoned until Nov. 23, hours after the major city of Harbin shut down running water to 3.8 million people. The city earlier caused a panic by announcing the shutdown but saying it was for maintenance, an explanation that few of the city's residents believed.

Russia has built a dam on another waterway linked to the Heilong near Khabarovsk in an effort to move the slick past the city more quickly and protect nearby wetlands.

China also has sent nearly 150 tonnes of carbon to Khabarovsk for use in water filtration plants.

Yesterday, Xinhua said Beijing would send another 900 tonnes of carbon, plus water-monitoring equipment.

"We are ready to increase contacts and consultations with the Russian side and take effective measures to minimize the impact of the pollution," Qin Gang (秦剛), a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying.

The head of the slick arrived Thursday in Tongjiang, a Chinese border city where the Songhua flows into the Heilong, Xinhua said.

The slick has lengthened and slowed as the rivers freeze, stretching from 90km in length at its start to 150km at the last report.

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