Image: Residents line up for water
Residents of Yancheng, China, line up for clean water on Feb. 20 after a chemical pollutant was discovered in the water supply.
updated 3/3/2009 5:33:38 PM ET 2009-03-03T22:33:38

A city in eastern China that had its tap water contaminated by an industrial chemical leak will shut down more than 30 chemical plants, state media reported Tuesday.

Officials in Yancheng city in Jiangsu province discovered last month that the water supply to the city's 1.5 million residents had been polluted by phenol, a chemical used in the production of resins and plastics, and they were forced to briefly cut the supply to hundreds of thousands of people.

Environmental inspectors found that a chemical plant had been illegally discharging the compound into the city's Xinyanggang River.

Mayor Li Qiang held a news conference Tuesday to announce that 33 of the 317 chemical plants in the city would be shuttered, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

"Some of the plants will be compensated for relocation, and others, whose production lines are outdated, will be closed," Vice Mayor Gu Jiadong was quoted as saying.

The report did not say how or why the plants to be closed had been chosen.

Li said residents had submitted dozens of complaints about the chemical plants but nothing had been done, the official China Daily newspaper said Tuesday.

Police earlier detained the legal representative and manager of the Biaoxin Chemical Co., the plant responsible for last month's leak.

China's double-digit economic growth has come with a surge in heavily polluting industries. In recent years, a series of high-profile industrial accidents along major rivers have disrupted water supplies to big cities.

Last year, heavy pollution turned portions of the Han river, a branch of the Yangtze, in central Hubei province red and foamy, forcing the government to cut water supplies to as many as 200,000 people.

In 2005 in one of China's worst cases of river pollution, carcinogenic chemicals, including benzene, spilled into the Songhua River. The northeastern city of Harbin was forced to sever water supplies to 3.8 million people for five days. The accident also strained relations with Russia, into which the poisoned waters flowed.

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