Another toxic spill threatens China

Associated Press
Published December 23, 2005

BEIJING - China's government rushed Thursday to shield the country's southern business center, Guangzhou, from a toxic spill of cadmium flowing toward the city of 7-million - the second manmade disaster to hit a Chinese river in six weeks.

Meanwhile, a slick of toxic benzene from the first accident in the north arrived in the Russian city of Khabarovsk, where residents flooded a telephone hotline.

The disasters highlight the precarious state of China's water supplies for industry and homes. Regulators say its major rivers are polluted and millions of people lack access to clean water. The accidents are an embarrassment to President Hu Jintao, who has promised to clean environmental damage from China's 25 years of breakneck economic growth.

Authorities in southern China were dumping water from reservoirs into the Bei River to dilute the cadmium spill from a smelter.

Cadmium is a soft, bluish-white metal found in lead and zinc ores. Exposure to it can cause lung and prostate cancer, kidney damage and bone disease, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The government did not say when the smelter spill would reach Guangzhou, the heart of the region near Hong Kong. But the official Xinhua News Agency said city leaders were ordered to "start emergency plans to ensure safe drinking water supplies."

Six weeks ago, a chemical plant explosion spewed benzene and other toxins into a northeastern river, disrupting water supplies for millions of people and straining relations with neighboring Russia. On Thursday, the benzene spill flowed into Khabarovsk in Russia. Authorities said the city would keep supplying running water from the river because chemical levels were within a safe range.