February 20, 2006

China toxic spill forces water supplies to be cut

BEIJING (Reuters) - A toxic chemical spill in southwest
China has disrupted water supplies to 20,000 people since last
week, a state newspaper said on Monday, the latest in a series
of pollution incidents to hit the country.

A power plant on the upper reaches of the Yuexi River in
Sichuan province was to blame for the pollution, which prompted
environmental officials to suspend water supplies to Guanyin
Town since last Wednesday, the official China Daily said.

Water was being trucked in to residents, but was unable to
meet demand, it added.

Tests showed that the river had been polluted with
chemicals including fluoride and nitrogen, the newspaper said.

Earlier this month, three tanks at a chemical company in
the northwestern province of Shaanxi collapsed, discharging
about 2,000 tons of alkaline waste into a river which flows
into the Yellow River, China's second-longest.

In one of the worst incidents, water supplies to millions
of people in northeastern China were suspended after a blast at
a chemical plant in November caused cancer-causing benzene
compounds to leak into a major river.

The chief of China's environment watchdog was forced to
resign following that spill, which became an international
incident as the river flows into Russia.

The Chinese government has promised to improve
environmental safeguards and has spent billions of yuan on
cleaning up the country's rivers, though experts warn some of
it is mis-spent and ineffective.