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Russian Ecologists Warn Of Long Term Threat From Chinese Slick

A Russian fishes on the ice of the frozen Amur river near the Siberian city of Khabarovsk, 28 November 2005. The taps were back on in the Chinese city of Harbin, but the toxic slick flowing down the Songhua river was still raising environmental concerns for smaller cities, and all the way to Russia. The 100 tons of benzene and nitrobenzene that were dumped into the Songhua 13 November 2005 following a chemical plant explosion in neighboring Jilin province were still posing a danger for many others downstream. The slick is expected to reach the Russian border, which is about 600 kilometres from Harbin, in two weeks, Chinese state press reported 28 November 2005. AFP photo by Yuri Tutov.

Vladivostok (AFP) Nov 30, 2005
Russian environmentalists warned Wednesday that widespread damage could be caused by a toxic slick flowing down river from China, as a senior official said the slick's first traces might already have entered the country.

In a report, experts from the Far East division of environmental group WWF rejected claims by some officials that the chemical slick released by an explosion at a Chinese factory on November 13 would pose less of a threat as it became diluted.

Highly toxic metals such as mercury and cadmium would sink to the bottom of the Amur River posing a real threat to fish, and from fish could find their way into humans, the report's author, Lyubov Kondrateva, an expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said.

The true scale of the threat might only become clear when the ice on the Amur breaks in the spring, Kondrateva said.

"The toxic waste may accumulate in various organisms and thus enter the human body, causing a real health threat. Once the ice breaks, all this toxic poison could get into the Amur delta and then the sea ... there is a real ecological risk" of the waste getting into the Okhotsk Sea, off Russia's east coast, and the Sea of Japan, she said.

"If that happens, the problem of waste in the border rivers would not concern only Russia and China," Kondrateva added.

Russian authorities have stepped up moves to secure water supplies in the far east of the country, shipping in 20 tonnes of charcoal for use in water purification and increasing stocks of clean water in bottles and cisterns, particularly in the city of Khabarovsk, home to some 600,000 people.

In Moscow on Wednesday the deputy head of the Natural Resource Management Agency, Oleg Mitvol, said that tests to determine whether the slick had already entered Russia had been inconclusive.

At one point west of the city of Khabarovsk, excessive levels of benzene, one of the main components of the slick, had been found, Mitvol said.

"We carried out analyses and found levels of benzene over the permitted limit... I suppose that it is coming from China," Mitvol said.

However Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry, quoted by the RIA-Novosti news agency, denied that pollution from the explosion in China had reached Russian territory.

The toxic slick was due to reach Nizhneleninsk, in Russia's Autonomous Jewish Province, on December 6-8, followed by Khabarovsk on December 9-11, the ministry said.

The blast at a PetroChina plant released 100 tonnes of chemicals, made up mainly of the carcinogen benzene and nitrobenzene, into the Songhua River, a tributary of the Amur.

Harbin, the capital of China's Heilongjiang province, suffered a five-day water shutdown as a result.

Around 50 tonnes of chemicals are believed to have passed through Harbin, continuing to threaten Chinese areas downstream as well as parts of Russia.

Chinese officials in Heilongjiang said Wednesday they were sending experts and equipment to Russia to help curb the slick, following a visit by Russian officials.

"We will send experts to Russia to give training lessons but the equipment will go first, and the experts need to go through some procedures," said a spokesman of the Heilongjiang environmental bureau, who identified himself only by his family name Zhang.

"They are all experienced experts in our environmental protection bureau."

China apologized to its giant neighbour Russia over the weekend for the problems the slick was causing.

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Schools Reopen In Harbin As China Vows To Go All Out To Help Russia
Beijing (AFP) Nov 29, 2005
Schools reopened in northeast China's Harbin Tuesday after a toxic slick had passed by the city along the Songhua river, as the foreign ministry vowed to "go all out" to protect Russians living downstream.

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