07/29/2010, 00.00
CHINA

Toxic chemical into the Songhua River leads to environmental emergency

In Jilin, floods wash 3,000 barrels of a toxic chemical compound into a river, causing long moments of fear. Alarm ends a day later. In Nanjing, a propylene pipeline explodes during building demolitions, kills and injures dozens. Heavy rains continue. Floods cause almost a thousand deaths this year.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Jilin, 4.3 million people, was without water yesterday after 3,000 barrels filled with chemicals were washed into the Songhua River (Songhuajiang). In a summer of environmental emergencies, rescue work continues in Nanjing where a propylene pipeline blew up, killing at least 12 people and injuring dozens more.

In Jilin, floodwaters washed into the Songhua River about 170 kilograms of Trimethylsilyl chloride (aka chlorotrimethylsilane), a colourless flammable chemical.

After being shut off yesterday, the local water supply was restored this morning after tests indicated that the water quality of the Songhua River was normal. Workers continued to recover the barrels, but it is not clear how many were still intact.

Despite the authorities’ call for calm, residents scrambled to buy up bottled water as it was unclear how long supplies to the city would remain cut off.

Many still remember when in November 2005 tonnes of benzene leaked into the same river and the authorities tried to cover up the disaster.

Also yesterday in Nanjing, workers demolishing buildings at the Nanjing No. 4 Plastics Factory damaged a propylene pipeline, which then blew up.

Residents in nearby buildings said it “felt like an earthquake”, forcing them to run into the streets, scared to death. Jiangsu provincial authorities dispatched 900 officials to assist local residents affected by the blast, but also to stop people from getting together to protest for the interruption to the supply of water, electricity and gas, services that were “basically” restored today according to the local government.

The blast badly damaged buildings and vehicles within 100 metres. About 120 residents were hospitalised.

The incident in Jilin was caused by the worst rains to hit the region in years. Across China, floods this year have killed at least 928 people, left 477 missing and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage. As of yesterday, a total of 875,000 homes have been destroyed, 9.61 million people evacuated, and 8.76 million hectares of crops ruined by flooding this year, according to the state flood control office.

More heavy rains are expected for the southeast, southwest and northeast parts of the country until Friday. Thousands of workers sandbagged riverbanks and checked reservoirs in preparation for potential floods expected to flow from the swollen Yangtze and Han rivers.

Floods have also put large dams like the Three Gorges Dam to the test. On Wednesday morning, in the latter the water level reached 158 metres, or 90 per cent of its maximum capacity.

In recent weeks, the country has been hit by a series of natural disasters caused by poor security measures, further raising doubts about the authorities’ capacity to pursue economic development whilst protecting the environment.

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See also
Sacked official "found dead" after Jilin blast
07/12/2005
Company only fined for benzene slick in Songhua River
26/01/2007
UN says Beijing should have informed the population of the Songhua toxic spill
13/01/2006
Toxic coal tar threatens water supply of 10 million people in Shanxi
16/06/2006
80-kilometre slick of contaminated water reaches Harbin
24/11/2005