Toxic river slick cuts off water to thousands in China
A toxic slick has cut off water to thousands of people living along a river in southern China and was Thursday headed for Guangzhou, a city of 10 million residents.
The slick, caused by excessive cadmium discharges from a smelting works in Shaoguan city on December 15, has polluted the Beijiang river in Guangdong province.
Officials contacted by phone denied there had been any stoppage to the water supply due to the slick, which came a month after a chemical spill in northeast China shut off water for four days to millions of people.
But residents in Yingde, a city of one million people downstream from Shaoguan, told AFP on Thursday they had been without running water for most of this week.
Some 10,000 employees and employees' family members at a cement company in Yingde's Wangfu town had been without running water for four to five days, a person contacted at the factory told AFP.
"We have about three water carriers to supply our drinking water," he said. "We still use the river water for showering and doing laundry. It is really inconvenient for us."
Staff at another Yingde cement factory on the banks of the polluted Beijiang said its more than 1,000 employees had been relying on potable water trucked in by four fire engines.
"The fire engines' water is only for drinking. There's not enough water for showering," said an official surnamed Huang at the Yingde Cement Factory.
Officials in Yingde told AFP Wednesday the city had lowered a dam gate to halt the slick and had built an emergency pipeline to divert water from a local reservoir to urban areas.
Several Yingde hotels, however, told AFP the city had cut off water Thursday.
"They cut water from about 8 am to about noon today," said an employee surnamed Liang at the Dongfang Hotel downtown.
"They announced on television that the reason was because of the toxic slick. They told us to prepare backup water," he said.
Many families were using water they had collected in cement tanks.
Guangdong officials appeared eager to avoid charges of incompetence like those that followed the spill a month ago, which led to the head of China's environmental protection agency being sacked.
"They told people on TV not to believe rumors, that they will quickly solve the problem," Zhang said.
Meanwhile, the downstream cities of Guangzhou and Foshan had been ordered to be on alert and prepare contingency plans, the Xinhua news agency said.
City officials Thursday told AFP they had enough water from other sources, including two other rivers, and were confident they would not need to cut off the water supply.
Upstream in Yingde, officials had slowed the slick's flow by lowering the dam gate and discharged water from reservoirs to dilute the pollution.
Efforts to dilute the slick appeared to be working, as the toxicity level was falling, Xinhua said without giving details.
By the time the water reaches Guangzhou, the cadmium level should be safe, officials said, adding that the city also uses water from other rivers.
The spill last month was caused by an explosion at a benzene factory along the Songhua River. It left millions of people in northeast China's Heilongjiang province without water for four days.
Chemicals from the spill flowed into the Russian city of Khabarovsk Thursday but officials there said concentrations were low so far and posed negligible danger for human health.All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.