December 1, 2005

China criticises local officials over toxic slick

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has criticised environment
officials in its northeastern province of Jilin for their
failure to report on a toxic spill and said the delay hampered
efforts to control pollution, the China Daily reported on

An explosion at a Jilin chemical plant on November 13
poured 100 tonnes of cancer-causing benzene compounds into the
Songhua River, but the State Environmental Protection
Administration said from November 14 to 17 it received no
reports from provincial authorities.

That meant the "best opportunity" to control the spill had
been lost, the state-run newspaper reported Administration
Vice-Minister Wang Yuqinghim as telling a national

"A reckless pursuit of economic growth and a lack of
emergency response mechanisms have seen China experiencing a
high rate of environmental disasters," Wang was quoted as

The toxic slick forced officials in Harbin, a city of 9
million people, to shut off water. The slick has since passed
through the city and is making its way downstream through the
northeast province of Heilongjiang toward the Russian border.

The initial attempts to cover up the spill were a blow to
President Hu Jintao's drive to boost government accountability
and Wang said there could be yet more environmental disasters
that local officials keep quiet.

By the end of November, 36 major pollution accidents had
been reported, Wang said without giving details, adding there
could be many more that have gone unreported.

Regional governments were also giving tacit consent to the
discharge of pollutants into rivers and some had approved
polluting businesses that the central government had banned,
Wang said.

"Local environmental protection bureaus need to increase
their ability and improve their equipment to supervise and
handle pollution," he said.

Less than half of China's provinces have emergency plans in
the event of environmental accidents, Wang added.