Arsenic-compound spill affects drinking water for 80,000 in China

ASIA PACIFIC NEWS, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006
Beijing – A leak of an arsenic compound from a waste tank at a chemical plant in central China poisoned the drinking water of 80,000 people, with authorities Sunday issuing urgent warnings.
The people of Chengguang in the district of Yueyang in Hunan province were warned not to drink water from the tap.
‘People are worried,’ a plant employee confirmed by telephone to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Sunday.
‘Many are buying large quantities of drinking water from shops. Others are going to stay with people they know in neighbouring villages who have their own wells.’
Restaurants were empty as people were concerned about how safe the water was.
The authorities sent 18 fire engines to the area to deliver fresh water to residents, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
There were ‘sufficient’ water supplies for everyone, an employee of Yueyang Information Bureau said.
The pollution by arsenide, a compound of arsenic, was discovered Friday during a routine inspection of the water quality in the Xinqiang River, Yueyang’s Environment Agency said.
‘We found elevated levels,’ the agency said.
Xinhua said the levels were 10 times the permitted standard.
The authorities sounded the alarm and put an emergency plan into action.
The Tieshan reservoir further upstream has been releasing water since Saturday to dilute the poison and increase the flow speed of the river.
The authorities have permitted the additional use of groundwater, Xinhua reported.
The cause of the spill was a chemical plant 50 kilometres upstream in Linxiang which was shut down following the leak in its waste tank.
Xinhua said that arsenide was highly poisonous and that it could cause illness, vomiting, stomach pains and muscle cramps and could lead to coma and death in serious cases of poisoning.
Longterm arsenide exposure leads to liver damage and cancer of the kidneys, lungs and skin.
Schools were temporarily closed and the children sent home, people in the affected area said.
The weekend’s leak was the latest in a series of chemical accidents in China that are increasingly threatening China’s rivers and water supplies for large cities.
Since the initially covered-up catastrophe in the Songhua River in north-eastern China last autumn, in which the 4 million inhabitants of the city of Harbin had to go four days without water, environmental authorities have been keen to announce accidents early.
Bureaucrats that try to cover up chemical spills now face consequences for their inaction.

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