7,000 Barrels of Chemicals Taint Northeast China Water Source
[ Jilin City, China: Floods Wash Explosive Chemicals into River ]
Northeast China’s Yongji County was hit by a severe 12-hour rainstorm on the evening of July 27. The following morning it was reported that two chemical plant warehouses had collapsed causing 7,000 barrels of chemicals to be catapulted into the Songhua River (also known as Sungari River.) Flooding was reported to be at the highest levels of Wende River in the last century.
The two chemical plants affected were Jinlin Xinyaqiang Biochem Co. and Jilin Zhongxin Chemical Co. Wang Mingchen, deputy secretary of Jilin City government delayed the announcement till July 29, two days later. Among 3,000 barrels that retained chemicals, 2,500 of them contained the highly toxic chemical chlorotrimethylsilane-known to burn the skin and irritate the lungs.
According to China News, Jilin authorities have retrieved 1,500 barrels from the Songhua River.
The chemicals pose a threat to the 2.58 million population of the northeastern city of Jilin, where the Wende River and the Songhua River merge.
Eyewitnesses said, the chlorotrimethylsilane that leaked from the errant blue iron barrels reacted with the water from the Songhua River, generating heat and thick noxious smoke. The same eyewitnesses said people could smell the odor 100 meters away from the riverbank.
Bottled Water Frenzy
The Internet has carried reports of the incident since July 28, prompting residents in neighboring cities to storm supermarkets in Jilin for bottled water until the supply was exhausted. The water-shopping spree began on July 29 in Harbin, a major city downstream from the Songhua River.
South China Morning Post reported on July 30 that local taxi drivers in Jilin refused passengers, unless they were carrying drinking water and were willing to pay their fare in bottles of water.
A blogger who claimed to be living in Jilin disclosed that the Jilin Water Group Co. announced at 6:00 p.m. on July 27 that the water in the Songhua River was not polluted. However, as of 8:00 p.m. the same day, tap water had ceased to flow.
There was no running water in Jilin City on July 28. The Jilin Water Group announced that the reason for no water was due to “the power company doing maintenance work on its circuits” and that the situation “has nothing to do with the flood, and will not cause a problem with the water supply.” The water company also claimed that they tested the water and found that “there is no indication of water pollution.”
Previous Chemical Mishap
This is not the first time the water supply from the Songhua River has been cut off. Multiple explosions took place in the di-benzene manufacturing division of Jilin Petrochemical Company on Nov. 13, 2005. As a result, 100 tons of raw chemicals, benzene and nitrobenzene, escaped into the Songhua River.
The Jilin Petrochemical Company initially denied that there were chemicals leaking into the river as a result of the explosion. The official comment was that the explosions only generated water and carbon dioxide. The Chinese media did not mention emergency measures taken by cities along the river in Jilin Province. Only a week after the explosion did Heilongjiang Province, downstream from Jilin, begin to deal with the crisis.
The water company cut off the water supply one day after it announced the need for “maintenance work” to the system, which gave the citizens one day to store water. A day after the water supply was cut off, the water company announced that the water was polluted.
This time around, residents of Jilin began to suspect the reason behind the water supply being cut off. The water-shopping spree has launched the price of water from 20 yuan per barrel to 100 yuan. Despite the exorbitant cost, the water had sold out even before many had a chance to purchase any bottles.