December 17, 2005

Chinese pursue suit as toxic slick reaches Russia

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A toxic slick flowing along a Chinese
river has reached the border with Russia, even as Chinese
plaintiffs say that local courts are dragging their feet in
hearing a case against the company that caused the spill, media

A slick of benzene has moved up the frigid Songhua river,
forcing Chinese cities to shut down water supplies as it
passes. The slice has reached the junction of the Songhua and
Amur rivers, known in Chinese as Heilong, which forms the
border between the two countries, China's official Xinhua news
agency said late Friday.

Harbin business owners and residents plan to take a class
action lawsuit against the chemical plant to China's highest
court, the South China Morning Post said on Saturday.

An explosion on November 13 at Jilin Petrochemical Co., a
unit of PetroChina, spilled 100 tons of cancer-causing benzene
compounds into the Songhua River.

Government officials didn't reveal the 80-kilometer slick's
existence to the public until 10 days later, when it threatened
water supplies in the city of Harbin.

Seventeen restaurant and public bathhouse owners and three
Harbin residents would take their case to the Supreme People's
Court next week, if provincial courts failed to hear it by
Tuesday, the South China Morning Post said.

"I simply want to do justice to my fellow citizens in
Harbin whose health has been under serious threats over the
years by the contaminated river," Wang Baoqing, a restaurant
owner seeking a symbolic compensation of 10,000 yuan ($124),
told the paper.

"It appeared both provincial courts are adopting delay
tactics while waiting for instructions from higher authorities,
which may not come any time soon," the newspaper quoted Hu
Fengbin, the lawyer leading the litigation, as saying.

"Despite (the fact) that there is no precedence in the
country to provide compensation for large-scale environmental
damages...we will give it a try," he said.