05/05/2006, 00.00
CHINA - RUSSIA
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More toxic pollution from China's Songhua River reaching Russia

Tonnes of benzene spewed into the Songhua last November were trapped in ice. Thawing is now making the water unfit for drinking.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A second wave of pollution from the Songhua River, Amur in Russian, is reaching Russia. Alexander Gavrilov, deputy head of Russia's Far Eastern Water and Weather Monitoring Service, said in televised comments that the presence of some toxins exceeds allowable limits by 30 times. In Khabarovsk, population 580,000, a water emergency is in place: river water cannot be used for drinking and cooking.

The crisis began in November when an explosion in a factory in Jilin, China, spewed 100 tonnes of benzene and other toxic chemicals into the Songhua River, forcing Chinese authorities to cut off drinking water to millions of people in Harbin and other cities.

The alarm was sounded only days later despite the fact that residents along the river continued to use its water for their needs.

The toxic spill was 80 kilometres long and took several weeks before it reached Russia.

Some of the toxic chemicals which were trapped along the frozen riverbanks are now being released by the spring thaw.

In March China announced plans to spend 10 billion yuan (US$ 1.2 billion) to clean up the river, but they might take five years to be implemented. In the meantime, in Chongqing some 15,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes near the river because of a leaking gas well.

Experts are concerned that pollutants that settled on river bottom or stuck to ice might accumulate in fish.

The incident highlights how much China's economic boom has been achieved with total disregard for the environment and that its domestic pollution problems might spill over and threaten its neighbours. (PB)

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