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China rivers hit by flood-related chemical spills

In a picture taken on July 28, 2010 barrels from a chemical plant float in the Songhua river in Jilin, northeast China's Jilin province. More than a thousand barrels barrels that contained more than 160 tonnes of explosive chemicals were washed by floodwaters into the major waterway in northeastern China, state media said, in the country's latest environmental accident. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Aug 1, 2010
Chinese officials said Sunday flood-related chemical spills had spread through major rivers, but added there had been little impact on water quality.

Tests indicated highly-flammable chemicals had spread into northeastern Heilongjiang province after floods swept 7,000 chemical barrels into the Songhua River in neighbouring Jilin province, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Meanwhile, in eastern Wuhan, floods swept 1,500 drums of resin, oil, fertiliser and waste into the Yangtze River on Friday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a statement.

The announcements came as China tries to cope with an oil spill in the country's northeast that Greenpeace said ranks as one of the world's worst known oil disasters.

Beijing said 1,500 tonnes of crude may have poured into the Yellow Sea after two pipelines exploded at an oil storage depot in the port of Dalian on July 16, but Greenpeace says the spill could be 60 times that size.

In Heilongjian, Vice Governor Du Jiahao confirmed to reporters that tests showed the Songhua River spill, which occurred on Wednesday, had crossed into the province, Xinhua said.

The Songhua is the major source of drinking water for about 4.3 million people.

The report did not give details on the impact of the spill on Heilongjian, only citing previous water quality tests from Jilin that showed "a very small quantity" of hexamethyl disiloxane, a volatile liquid, had been found in the water.

It quoted Sun Lili, an engineer from Jilin's Design and Research Institute of Petrochemical Technology as saying the amounts "posed no threat" and the impact "can be negligible".

The Environmental Protection Ministry said the spill in Wuhan had been controlled.

"Monitoring results show that the Yangtze River water quality was not affected," spokesman Tao Detian said in the statement.

earlier related report
China races to recover chemical barrels from river
Beijing (AFP) July 30, 2010 - Workers on Friday struggled to recover 3,000 barrels filled with hazardous chemicals that were swept into a river in northeast China by floods, amid fears some had sunk, state media said.

Soldiers and emergency personnel fanned out at several points along the Songhua river in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces to recover the barrels, which came from two factories damaged by floodwaters, Xinhua news agency reported.

A total of 7,000 barrels were known to be missing from the plants near the city of Jilin -- 3,000 of them filled with trimethyl chloro silicane or hexamethyl disilazane, both colourless, toxic liquids.

So far, workers using cranes and steel nets have recovered about 3,000 barrels, but it was not immediately clear how many of them contained the chemicals, Xinhua said.

While tests have so far shown no signs of water contamination, workers tracking the barrels have apparently lost sight of some of them -- fuelling fears they have sunk to the riverbed, making their retrieval more difficult.

On Friday, the local government encouraged the public to join the salvage efforts, offering a reward of 100 yuan (15 dollars) for each full barrel retrieved, and 50 yuan for each empty container, Xinhua reported.

The Songhua is the major source of drinking water for about 4.3 million people. Prices of bottled water soared Wednesday as worried consumers cleared shop shelves, but then returned to normal, the China Daily said.

Water supplies in Jilin city were restored on Thursday after being cut off the day before.

Jilin is the latest province to be hit by deadly floods that have killed more than 300 people since July 14 and left another 300 missing, according to official figures.

In 2005, millions of people in Heilongjiang province were left without water for four days after an explosion at a benzene factory spilled the carcinogenic chemical into the Songhua.

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