Chinese toxic spill threatens Russian city19/12/2005 - 15:34:34
A toxic spill from a Chinese factory is now threatening the Russian city of Khabarovsk, where 580,000 people now face pollution and the possibility that their heating may have to be switched off despite sub-zero temperatures.
Specialists have detected an increase in benzene in the Amur River in Russia’s far east and the regional governor said authorities may have to shut down the city’s central heating system, a move that could prove disastrous in a region where daytime temperatures today were hovering around minus 20 degrees Celsius and where residences are overwhelmingly warmed by water heating at central facilities.
Officials say the concentration of the spill has dispersed somewhat since the November 13 incident, which forced officials in the Chinese city of Harbin to shut down municipal water supplies.
Still, Alexander Gavrilov, director of the Dalgidrometa monitoring agency, said Amur river samples taken about 150 miles south-west of Khabarovsk are now showing an increase in levels of benzene, a potentially cancer-causing chemical.
The chemicals could reach the city limits as early as Wednesday.
“The level of pollution in the water has increased to the maximum allowable concentration near the Chinese right bank of the Amur,” Gavrilov said. “There’s no need to overdramatise the situation.”
The spill has strained relations with Moscow and stoked Russian suspicions about China and its industrial boom.
Though authorities say they do not expect to shut down Khabarovsk’s water supplies, many residents are preparing for the worst: buying bottled water and filling canisters from taps and from outdoor ground wells, tasks made more complicated by the minus 30 degrees Celsius daytime temperatures.
Regional emergency officials said they have nearly completed two dams to block off two river channels along the Amur’s left bank – across the river from the city.
Governor Viktor Ishaev said in televised comments Monday that it was possible that authorities may have to shut down the central heating plant to prevent the chemicals from entering municipal pipes.
“We have not ruled out shutting off the hot water,” Ishaev said.
Ishaev, who earlier said the region’s residents had become “China’s hostages”, again blamed China for not providing complete information about what was spilled into the Amur’s upriver tributaries.
Scientists say residents are still at risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals.
“China has directed us only toward nitrobenzene and benzol, but we are seeing in the river other (chemicals) that are no less dangerous,” said Lyubov Kondratyeva, a water expert at the local branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Anxious not to further irk its main supplier of weaponry and an important source of oil, Beijing has apologised to Russia and has launched an investigation of the explosion and spill.
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