Thu, Jan 26, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Japanese scientists warn of Chinese chemical threat


A chemical spill in a river that has already caused an ecological disaster in parts of China and Russia could reach the sea and wash ashore in Japan within months, researchers have warned.

Some 90 tonnes of toxins were dumped into the Songhua River following an explosion at a chemical plant in northeast China on Nov. 13.

The slick is now traveling down the icy Russian Amur River and toward the Sea of Okhotsk.

When the ice melts in spring, the poisonous slew of hydrocarbons could be carried by ocean currents from the river mouth to Japan's Hokkaido island -- hitting the north coast by November -- according to preliminary findings by researchers at the Institute of Low Temperature Science, who track currents in the area.

Particularly at risk from the toxins was Hokkaido's Shiretoko peninsula and its surrounding waters, considered one of the richest north temperate ecosystems in the world. It has also recently been designated a natural heritage site.

Keiichiro Oshima, who heads the research, said his team would not know the full risks until China more fully disclosed what was released into the river.

"Benzene and nitrobenzene will most likely evaporate before hitting Hokkaido. But if other toxins are involved, we could be facing trouble," Oshima said.

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