Health fears over China toxin spill

Environmental experts say that a slick of cancer-causing benzene released by an explosion at a Chinese chemical plant could pose a long-term risk to human health.

    Water supplies have been cut for millions of residents

    The warning came as millions of residents in the northwestern city of Harbin endured their third full day without running water after supplies were cut following the accident.

     

    The slick, thought to be about 80 km long, continued to flow through the city on Friday along the route of the Songhua river, which supplies most of Harbin's tap water.

     

    In Beijing government officials tried to reassure Harbin's 3.8 million residents that water supplies will resume quickly and safely.

     

    However, locals say many residents are evacuating the city while engineers are contining to sink dozens of wells.

     

    In a sign of how the city's water crisis has jarred China's nerves about pollution, Premier Wen Jiabao ordered authorities to ensure everyone has access to safe drinking water.

     

    However, trust in the government's effectiveness in dealing with the spill received a further knock on Friday with a newspaper report that environmental protection officials initially tried to cover-up the extent of the pollution.

     

    According to the China Youth Daily officials discharged water from a reservoir into the Songhua river in an attempt to dilute the spill following the explosion at the chemical plant.

    They then decided not to warn the public about it.

    Health impact

     

    The government has since admitted 100 tonnes of benzene and nitrobenzene, about 10 tanker-truck loads worth, spilled into the Songhua after the blast.

    But while officials have tried to play down the effects of the spill, environmentalists are warning the environmental and social impact of the disaster could be severe and last for years.

     

    Kenneth Leung, an eco-toxicologist from the University of Hong Kong, said benzene would settle in the river sediment and be taken into the food chain by tiny fish which scour the river bed for food.

     

    "Those higher up in the food chain such as water birds and humans could suffer," Leung said, explaining that animals can easily accumulate benzene but are unable to metabolise, or dispose of, the chemical.

     

    Long-term danger

     

    Leung added: "Benzene can bond to DNA and cause mutation which can lead to cancer."

    "Benzene can bond to DNA and cause mutation which can lead to cancer"

    Kenneth Leung,
    Eco-toxicologist from the University of Hong Kong

    His colleague, Dr Gu Ji-dong, said the pollution could pose a danger for several years after the slick had passed.

    "With these class of chemicals, some of the micro-organisms can be degraded but some cannot," Gu said.

    In an accident bearing many similarities to the Jilin blast, state media reported on Friday another chemical plant had exploded, this time in the nation's southwest Chongqing municipality on Thursday.

     

    One worker was killed and at least 10,000 evacuated amid another feared benzene leak, the China Business News said.

     

    Government officials refused to comment.

    SOURCE: Agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Double standards: 'Why aren't we all with Somalia?'

    Double standards: 'Why aren't we all with Somalia?'

    Almost 300 people died in Mogadishu but some are asking why there was less news coverage and sympathy on social media.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Kobe Steel: A scandal made in Japan

    Kobe Steel: A scandal made in Japan

    Japan's third-largest steelmaker has admitted it faked data on parts used in cars, planes and trains.