China Truck Crashes Spark Chemical Scares

December 9, 2005 12:00 am Last Updated: December 9, 2005 12:00 am

BEIJING – Three southern Chinese cities were struck by chemical spill scares this week following traffic accidents involving tanker trucks, state media said on Friday.

The spills happened as authorities try to solve a three-week crisis over a toxic slick that polluted a northeastern river, forcing the shutdown of water supplies to millions and raising alarm bells in Russia as it flows slowly and icily downstream.

The city of Hechi in the southern Guangxi region went off high alert on Friday after winds dispersed an “acidic mist” of poisonous yellow phosphorous escaping from a tanker truck that overturned and ruptured on Wednesday, state-controlled Xinhua news agency said.

Many people in the city of 200,000 were “overcome with nausea from the fumes”, but the cloud blew off before doing more serious damage, Xinhua reported.

Also on Wednesday, 23 tonnes of sulphuric acid poured out of a dangerously overloaded truck that overturned near Guangxi's capital of Nanning, it said in a separate report.

Fields around the crash site were burnt black and tests had shown land further away was severely polluted, Xinhua said.

Disaster was narrowly averted in neighbouring Guangdong province on Thursday when flammable liquefied ammonia escaped from another crashed tanker but did not ignite, the China News Service said.

No casualties were reported in the three crashes.

In September, a truck loaded with ammonium nitrate exploded in southwest Yunnan province, killing at least 11 people and injuring dozens.

The string of chemical spills and coal mine disasters raises questions about the cost of China's breakneck economic boom as it rushes to meet insatiable demand for energy and chemicals.

In northeast China, a blast at a chemical plant sent 100 tonnes of cancer-causing benzene compounds into the Songhua river, forcing Harbin, a city of 9 million in Heilongjiang province, to shut off taps for nearly a week in late November.

The toxic slick, tens of kilometres long, is now winding its way northeast towards the Russian city of Khabarovsk though areas populated by millions of Chinese, though cold weather is freezing the river and slowing its progress.