Plant closed in China after tap water polluted


Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 4

Chinese authorities closed a chemical plant under investigation for contaminating water supplies to 1.5 million people in the country’s east, state media said yesterday.

Biaoxin Chemical Company caused “massive” tap water pollution in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province, forcing the closure of two out of three tap water plants, Xinhua news agency said.

Water supplies were restored after a five-hour shutdown on Friday, Xinhua said.

There were no reports of immediate health problems and the Yancheng local government posted a notice yesterday on its Web site saying that drinking water was safe.

Investigators identified the pollutant as a phenol compound used to make products including air fresheners, medical ointments, cosmetics and sunscreens.

The Beijing News newspaper said hundreds of thousands of people had their water cut.

In recent years, a series of high-profile industrial accidents along China’s major rivers has disrupted water supplies to big cities, as the country’s booming economy brought more heavily polluting industries.

Local police have “controlled” the owners of the Biaoxin Chemical Company, Xinhua said, without giving further details.

The term in Chinese is vague but implies that the owners were detained.

Last year, heavy pollution turned portions of the Han River, a branch of the Yangtze, red and foamy, forcing the government to cut water supplies to as many as 200,000 people.

In 2005, in one of China’s worst cases of river pollution, carcinogenic chemicals, including benzene, spilled into the Songhua River.

The city of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province was forced to sever water supplies to 3.8 million people for five days.

The accident also strained relations with Russia, into which the poisoned waters flowed.

The country’s cities are among the world’s smoggiest and the government says its major rivers, canals and lakes are badly polluted by industrial, agricultural and household pollution, with 200 million rural inhabitants without access to safe drinking water last year.