Guangxi’s Battle for Clean Water

After detection of high levels of cadmium in the tributaries of the Pearl River, officials claim that the levels of the poisonous chemical found in batteries has been successfully diluted. The chemical spill threatened the water supply of 1.5 million people, including residents in Hong Kong and Macau. This report comes amid concerns about environmental contamination that has been the result of rapid industrialization and expansion. Business Week reports:

Crews in the city of Liuzhou used ships to spread canvas across the Longjiang River and stop the cadmium, China National Radio reported today. Tests done at 6 p.m. yesterday at Liuzhou’s water plants met national standards, it said.

The cadmium spill, first detected Jan. 15 upstream in the city of Hechi, has killed fish and prompted panic buying of bottled water, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. Hechi Mayor He Xinxing issued a public apology after the incident, China National Radio reported. The city’s Communist Party Chief Huang Shiyong pledged to “severely crack down” on polluting companies, the China News Service reported.

Environmental contamination has fueled social unrest in China as three decades of growth transformed the nation into the world’s second-biggest economy and its largest polluter. Lead poisoning from battery makers, fluoride leaks from solar panel plants and acid spills from copper mines are among incidents that have sparked public outrage, prompting President Hu Jintao and other senior officials to pledge to reduce pollution.

In Guangxi, authorities dumped hundreds of tons of chemicals into the river to neutralize the cadmium, according to Xinhua. Hechi officials haven’t been able to confirm the direct source of the pollution because of the area’s complicated geography, China National Radio reported, citing Wu Haique, director of the city’s environmental protection agency.

Cadmium may cause kidney dysfunction and cancer, and the chemical is speculated to have a lasting impact on the soil in the riverbed and the local fish. Seven people have been detained as a result of this spill. Bloomberg adds:

China detained seven people in connection with a toxic metal spill in Guangxi province that contaminated a tributary of the Pearl River and threatened water for 1.5 million people, according to a local official.

All seven were executives at chemical plants, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late yesterday, citing Feng Zhennian, an official with the regional environmental protection department. Feng didn’t identify the executives, Xinhua said.

Several instances of chemical spills have threatened Chinese cities’ drinking water in the past decade. A 2005 explosion at a unit of PetroChina Co. in northern China caused 100 tons of toxins to be spilled into the Songhua river, forcing authorities to shut off tap water for more than 3 million people in the city of Harbin. That incident led to the resignation of Xie Zhenhua as China’s top environmental protection official.

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