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. Nightmare On Songhua River Shocks China Out Of Eco Complacency

The environmental crisis of the Songhua (pictured) spill is a time-released catastrophe with the planet's seasons dictating the terms for human response. Along its course, the Songhua and Amur are turning to ice, meaning water and soil benzene tainted crystalline structures will stay frozen in until the disaster thaws.

Beijing (UPI) Dec 1, 2005
China's leaders have not yet formulated multiple response plans for a generation of disasters in the aftermath of the Songhua River toxic chemical spill.

The officially released figure of 100 tons of benzene and nitrobenzene compounds released into the Songhua (Pine Flower) River after the petrochemical plant explosion in Jilin city, Jilin province, on Nov. 13 continues winding its way north to where it meets with the mighty Heilong (Black Dragon) River called the Amur in Russian. Current estimates say it becomes Russia's problem too in less than 10 days.

The Heilong/Amur River has served as part of the border separating Russia and China since empires of the late 17th century. Good relations between the two countries still matter at the map's dotted line. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Liu Jianchao addressed the issue of bilateral repercussions during a news briefing Tuesday in Beijing.

"China and Russia both hope to continuously deepen their strategic partnership of cooperation. The two governments attach great importance to the pollution problem; neither of us wants to see the incident harm relations. We both have to take further efforts to reduce possible future damage," Liu said.

The spokesman admitted "since Nov. 22 we have informed the Russian side of the relevant information and as far as I know the Ministry of Water Resources, Foreign Ministry and State Environmental Protection Administration, including two ministers in person, have informed the Russian side of the situation."

Liu said: "China has been informing the Russian side of the monitoring information every day since Nov. 24 and we have taken effective measures to eliminate the pollution and losses incurred."

"In China's cooperation with Russia, we're going all out to minimize possible harm of the Songhua River on the Russian side," he said.

The spokesman's next statement touched the heart of the key issue China now faces. In an abrupt shift Liu said his government "will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens as well as the Russian people."

The Chinese leadership needs to develop and articulate multi-objective long-term planning strategies to address the toxic spill if Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao's administration hopes to deliver on its promise "ensuring the safety of Chinese citizens."

Recent pledges of greater transparency will be put to the test when the toxic Songhua becomes an international border. There are several sets of data worth analyzing if, and when, the information becomes available.

Basic accounting principles provide the easiest way to look at the issue: Can China and Russia account for 100 million tons of chemical crap known to cause pernicious suffering on a variety of health issues?

The amount of benzene remaining in China is vitally important to the upstream portion of the 45 million people who live within the Songhua River's drainage basin.

Russian monitoring stations might provide key data once the poisoned river artery passes beyond Chinese control. Chemical levels from the time they are detected until the toxic spike abates are the thing to watch.

China's tainted waterway flows to the city of Khabarovsk, a major Russian city on the Amur in its Far East possessions. The sparsely populated Amur, frozen almost seven months a year, continues to the outpost Nikolayevsk-na-Amure where it drains into the Tatar Strait connecting the Sakhalin Sea and the Sea of Japan.

The environmental crisis of the Songhua spill is a time-released catastrophe with the planet's seasons dictating the terms for human response. Along its course, the Songhua and Amur are turning to ice, meaning water and soil benzene tainted crystalline structures will stay frozen in until the disaster thaws. The sins of 2005 will be with us in 2006.

As scientists construct models to figure out where toxic concentrations are deposited -- and in what amounts -- the possible damage will continue to flush out into bigger bodies of water along the shores of the western Pacific Ocean.

Next among important data is to see what China's state-run media reports as the amount of toxins removed from the river before it reaches Russia. These efforts are likely to form an incomplete picture of the extent of the problem.

What multiple health risks do benzene and nitrobenzene pose? Sidestepping the obvious problem that humans can't drink tainted water, the chemical can't be touched, inhaled, or ingested via plant and animal food sources without the possibility of contracting major organ and blood problems as well as cancer.

On Wednesday United Press International asked Gao Qiang, head of the Ministry of Health, about problems from the Songhua River. Noting "river pollution in Harbin (a metropolis of nine million residents) is a major problem."

Gao added: "The State Council has organized state environmental protection authorities and other related agencies to conduct a joint campaign to monitor the situation, clean up the pollution and provide clean water for the people."

"We have only one goal in mind which is to provide safe, clean and healthy drinking water for the general public," Gao said.

Gao's last statement left much to be desired for a comprehensive long-term understanding of the issue despite saying, "We have also learned from this incident; when dealing with emergencies China has to formulate reaction plans as perfect as possible, then implement them effectively and reasonably so as to minimize the damage."

It is too late to excoriate the Chinese government and state-owned parent company China National Petroleum Corp. for its inept response and disgraceful performance during the critical initial stage of the disaster. Both entities owe explanations and compensation.

This country is going through growing pains of globalization. In response to mounting criticism that China has reaped the benefits and abrogating the responsibilities, the foreign ministry spokesman Liu said: "the globalization is not only reflected in the economic field but also in the environment."

Lingering doubts remain if the country can grasp and do what it takes in its quest for "great power" status, especially for its own people.

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China To Let UN Experts Inspect Toxic Slick
Beijing (AFP) Dec 01, 2005
China said Thursday it will let the United Nations inspect a toxic slick moving along a major river to Russia, adding experts from the world body would be allowed on the ground "as appropriate".

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