Jason Lee  /  Reuters
Chinese environmental officials take water samples from the Songhua River outside Harbin last November when the government scrambled to prevent a benzene spill from sickening residents.
updated 1/9/2006 12:07:13 PM ET 2006-01-09T17:07:13

China will invest more than $3 billion over the next five years to clean up the Songhua River, a key source of drinking water for tens of millions of people that was polluted in November by a toxic spill that flowed into Russia, reports said Sunday.

The pollution control effort will cover the entire river valley spanning four provinces that are home to more than 62 million people, the Beijing Youth Daily reported. It will cost the equivalent of $3.28 billion.

By 2010, more than 90 percent of the people living in the four provinces should have access to clean drinking water, the paper quoted environmental officials meeting in Harbin, capital of northern Heilongjian province, as saying. The percentage of those with access to clean drinking water now was not reported.

The announcement came after a Nov. 13 explosion at a chemical plant spewed benzene into the Songhua, polluting the river and disrupting running water to millions of people in China and Russia, where the toxic slick arrived late last month.

It also came as an eastern Chinese province shut down its water intake points along the Yellow River after a diesel oil spill, and another province reported that cadmium, a potentially cancer-causing chemical, had leaked into a tributary of the Yangtze River.

Under the cleanup plan, new facilities will be constructed to remove 4.78 million tons of wastewater from the Songhua each day, reports said. Officials said about 1.43 billion tons of wastewater must be removed from the river every year to improve its quality.

Problems on other rivers
State media have been carrying frequent reports of water pollution since the benzene spill in the Songhua — and accusations the local government tried to conceal it from the public for 10 days.

An oil pipe at a power plant in Gongyi City in central China’s Henan province split Thursday due to freezing temperatures, spilling 6 tons of diesel into the Yiluo tributary of the Yellow River, local officials said.

In eastern Shandong province, authorities suspended water intakes at 63 points along the Yellow River Sunday as a 37-mile-stretch of pollutants reached the area, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

In Hunan province, also in central China, cadmium leaked into a tributary of the Yangtze River during a routine cleaning of wastewater drain pipes, said an official at the province’s environmental protection bureau who would not give her name because she was not authorized to talk to the media.

She said the incident happened Jan. 6, but the amount of cadmium was only slightly above the government’s acceptable level, and there were no plans to suspend water supplies to the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the river for drinking water.

On China’s tropical island of Hainan, a delay in building a wastewater treatment plant meant that more than 1 million people were drinking water contaminated with industrial and household waste, Xinhua said Sunday, quoting local government sources.

Also, the government said Sunday that officials must notify it within four hours of serious disasters like chemical spills, bird flu outbreaks and mine accidents. The new emergency response plan also says officials must notify the public as quickly as possible but sets no time limit.

The plan was issued by the State Council, China’s Cabinet.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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