Fri, Dec 23, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Guangzhou rushes to secure fresh water

EMERGENCY The bustling city just north of Hong Kong was bracing for the arrival yesterday of a toxic spill in the Bei River that will disrupt water supplies

AP , BEIJING

Chinese soldiers block the Fuyuan channel of the Heilongjiang River in northeastern China in order to plug up poisonous water from the Songhua River before it reaches the Russian city of Khabarovsk. After a five-day construction effort between China and Russia, the 442m-long levee, 16m in width, was finished on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

China's southern business capital of Guangzhou rushed to safeguard its water supply yesterday as a toxic spill from a smelter flowed toward the city of 7 million people just north of Hong Kong, state media said.

It was China's second environmental disaster in a month and came as authorities were trying to minimize the impact of a chemical spill on a northeastern river. That toxic slick disrupted water supplies to millions of people in China and has flowed into Russia.

Guangzhou and the nearby manufacturing center of Foshan were ordered to "start emergency plans to ensure safe drinking water supplies to their residents," the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The report didn't say what the cities were told to do.

The area is one of China's most densely populated and a center for the factories that supply its booming export industries.

The spill into the Bei River north of Guangzhou prompted another city, Shaoguan, to cut running water for eight hours on Tuesday. The Bei flows into the Pearl River, which passes through Guangzhou and empties into the South China Sea west of Hong Kong.

A woman who answered the phone at the press office of Guangzhou's water department refused to say whether it has cut running water or how many people might be affected.

But the woman said only one of Guangzhou's seven water plants is close enough to the river to be affected by the pollution. She would give only her surname, Zheng. Phone calls to the city government and environmental bureau yesterday morning weren't answered.

The government said the spill from a smelter in Shaoguan pushed up levels of the heavy metal cadmium in the Bei to 10 times acceptable limits.

The disaster came a month after a chemical plant explosion in China's northeast spewed 100 tonnes of benzene and other toxins into the Songhua River, forcing the major city of Harbin to shut down running water.

In Russia, authorities said the toxic slick could reach Khabarovsk, a city of 580,000 people, as early as yesterday. The city already has shut down running water in some areas as a precaution and warned all residents not to drink tap water.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) defended Beijing's handling of the spill, saying yesterday it was trying to minimize the impact on Russia.

"We express our regret for the possible impact and difficulties the Russian side may have in dealing with this issue," Qin said.

"But we have been very quick to respond and to take measures to prevent or to minimize the pollution's impact in our cooperation with Russia," he said.

Beijing has sent activated carbon to Khabarovsk for use in water filtration plants and built a dam meant to keep the toxins out of another river used by the city.

In Yingde, a city north of Guangzhou and about 90km downstream from Shaoguan, Xinhua said authorities used 15 fire trucks and other vehicles to deliver water to urban areas.

Officials in Yingde were dumping water from a suburban reservoir into the river to dilute the toxins and were building a pipe from the reservoir to bring clean water into the city, Xinhua said.

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