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. China To Spend Over 1Bn Dollars Cleaning Up Songhua River

Chinese water authorities take samples of the Songhua River. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Mar 31, 2006
China said Thursday it would spend 1.2 billion dollars cleaning up its third biggest river following a major chemical spill last year that contaminated water supplies for millions of people.

The State Council, or cabinet, on Wednesday approved the plan to invest 10 billion yuan (1.2 billion dollars) over five years cleaning up the Songhua river in the industrial northeast of the country, the State Environmental Protection Administration said.

"The plan is to solve the pollution problem in the drainage area of the river," the administration said in a statement on its website.

The decision to clean up the 1,897-kilometer (1,172-mile) river comes after an explosion on November 13 last year at a PetroChina chemical factory in Jilin province.

The accident led to the spillage of 100 tonnes of the carcinogens benzene and nitrobenzene into the river, a tributary of the Heilong river which in turn flows into major waterways in Russia's far east.

The chemical spill led to water supplies being suspended for days for millions of people living along the Songhua, including in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province.

In Russia, there were fears that the water and fish supplies for more than 600,000 people in the far eastern region of Khabarovsk had been contaminated.

Although Chinese authorities insisted the impact of the chemical spill dissipated shortly after the slick passed through the river, environmentalists have expressed concerns about the potential long-term damage.

The PetroChina spill was just the highest-profile accident along the Songhua, with the river and its surrounding environment suffering for decades from heavy industrial pollution.

The cities along the Songhua have historically been part of China's industrial heartland, even before the People's Republic was established in 1949.

Heavy industry, including chemical factories, coal mines and manufacturing factories, continues to operate in the area.

The State Council said preventing and controlling pollution in the industrial northeast had been elevated into the 11th five-year plan for national economic and social development.

"Doing the job well is of great significance to reinvigorating the old industrial base of northeast China, boosting coordinated economic and social development and improving people's lives," the administration said.

"Priority shall go to treatment and protection of collective sources of drinking water in large and medium-sized cities to ensure safety of drinking water and water quality of the China-Russia border river."

Water pollution is an enormous problem across China, not just along the Songhua.

More than 70 percent of its rivers and lakes are polluted, while underground water supplies in 90 percent of Chinese cities are contaminated, according to previous government reports.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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