12/22/2005, 00.00
CHINA

Cadmium spill in the Beijiang River leaves millions of people without water

A state-owned smelting plant releases a toxic slick. The river supplies water to big cities and millions of people in Guangdong province. The accident occurred last week but was revealed only yesterday.

Yingde (AsiaNews/SCMP) – A state of emergency has been declared in the city of Yingde, in Guangdong. Residents are without drinking water because the Beijiang River has ten times the allowed concentration of cadmium after a state-owned smelting plant released cadmium waste into the river in Shaoguan Country six days ago.

The Beijiang River supplies water to big cities and millions of people in Guangdong province, including the cities of Yingde, Qingyuan, Foshan and the capital Guangzhou.

In Yingde, workers are racing against time to install a 1.4 kilometre pipeline to bring fresh water from other places to about 100,000 residents.

Serious exposure to cadmium can cause diarrhoea, stomach pains, severe vomiting, reproductive failure, and damage to the central nervous and immune systems.

Local residents are angry for not being told right away. "We were told last Friday not to drink tap water but they never explained why," said Guo Baonian, a resident of Wanfu, one of the most affected towns near Yingde.

The slick was expected to reach Yingde today, but some small towns north of the city have already been affected where water supplies were cut off without explanation.

The environmental disaster in the Songhua River is still fresh in people's minds and there is widespread fear that the authorities are withholding information, releasing it too late.

"[W]ater flow is very slow. The slick hasn't reached any major cities yet," said provincial government spokesman Luo Zhanhuai.

The authorities hope the cadmium slick will be diluted in the river and have built up water levels in reservoirs.

Luo said water quality in some sections of the Beijiang has already returned to normal.

The smelting works responsible for the incident have halted operations but have not yet offered an explanation for the cadmium spill. (PB)

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