December 10, 2005

China Says Pollution Density in River Declining

BEIJING -- Pollution from a toxic slick in a northeastern Chinese river has declined sharply in density as authorities worked to ensure a safe water supply to a city of more than three million, state media said on Saturday.

Environment officials said the slick, now flowing through Heilingjiang province's second largest city of Jiamusi, would be further diluted when the Songhua River met with the Heilongjiang on its way toward the Russian border, Xinhua news agency reported.

State television said the water already met Russian drinking water standards.

China's environment chief Zhou Shengxian urged continued vigilance by local officials to ensure residents had safe drinking water.

"We should also start appraising the impact of the pollutants on the ecosystem and work to minimize such impact," Xinhua quoted Zhou as saying.

Zhou replaced Xie Zhenhua who resigned in early December because the State Environmental Protection Administration had failed to address the crisis, sparked by a chemical explosion in Jilin which poured 100 tons of cancer-causing benzene into the Songhua on November 13.

The spill, initially covered up by local officials, led to the shutdown of water supplies to millions of people downstream, including the city of Harbin, which saw its water supply severed for five days in November, and sparked concern downstream in Russia.

Xinhua quoted local environment officials as saying the density of the slick would continue to fall after it arrived at the downstream city of Tongjiang, where the Songhua River joins the Heilongjiang River, which flows into Russia.

The decline was revealed in measurements taken at monitoring posts along the Songhua early on Saturday, Xinhua said. As of 8 a.m., the maximum benzene density at Jiamusi measured 0.173 mg per liter and later fell to 0.162 mg per liter.