Beijing invites UN chemists to test polluted waters

The Chinese government is showing signs of concern about the pollution of the Songhua River. Nearly 20 days after the explosion at the Jilin petro-chemical plant – the cause of the pollution – the Chinese authorities have called on United Nations chemical experts to analyse the waters.


Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Chinese government is losing its grip on the situation and has called on the United Nations for help to test the polluted waters of the Songhua River. The toxic substances discharged into the river on 13 November will have a long-term environmental impact and not only on Chinese territory. The poisoned river is a tributary of the Amur River and Russia is also starting to worry.

Jiang Wenlai, of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, has sought to calm the population, saying "the total amount of toxic chemicals discharged in the river near Jilin city was not that large and the spill was diluted when it got to Harbin about 10 days later. When the polluted water reaches the Heilong River, it will not cause serious problems because it will be carrying a much lower concentration of toxic chemicals."

But the World Wildlife Fund in Russia say that right now, the 80km slick of water polluted with toxic substances in Heilong River is already an ecological catastrophe.

Ilya Mitasov, a Moscow-based spokeswoman, said evaporation was the only way to get rid of the toxic chemicals, but the water temperature would have to be 20 degrees for that to happen. The temperature is now about 10 degrees and there was ice on some stretches of the river. "The benzene will remain in the ice until spring, and the situation could get out of hand," Mitasov said.

The Health Minister, Gao Qiang, seems optimistic: yesterday he said the State Administration for Environmental Protection and other agencies could monitor and clean up the river from polluting substances. However, Zhou Linbo Zhou Linbo, a deputy director of Harbin's environmental bureau, said "the Chinese authorities have no idea about the kind of impact the chemicals, especially nitrobenzene, would have on the river's ecological system". The Chinese authorities have asked for the intervention of the United Nations, which means they are no longer so sure they have the situation in hand.

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