Cleanup crews in northern China were scrambling Thursday to absorb 60 tons of toxic coal tar accidentally dumped into a river before it reaches a reservoir serving a city of 10 million people, state media said.
The incident occurred Monday when a truck carrying the coal tar fell into the Dasha river in Shanxi province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Cotton batting, sponge, straw and activated carbon were being used to try to absorb the coal tar — a substance linked to cancer — before it reaches the Wangkuai Reservoir of Baoding, a city of about 10 million, Xinhua said.
Some 23 dams had also been set up along the Dasha river, Xinhua said. The report did not say, however, if the dams were meant to stop, filter or divert the flow of water.
Baoding, in neighboring Hebei province, is about 45 miles from the site of the accident, Xinhua said. The report said the pollution was traveling less than 1 mile per hour downstream.
Baoding city officials were preparing for the pollution to hit the reservoir but did not know when it would arrive, said a man who answered the phone at the Baoding City Environmental Protection Bureau. He would only give his surname, Qin.
Qin said the Wangkuai was not used for drinking water but for irrigation and industrial use. He said a second city reservoir, the Xidanyang, was a dedicated drinking water source.
There have been no reports of people being sickened by the contaminated water, Xinhua said.
Dozens of water pollution accidents
Xinhua said the truck carrying the coal tar was heavily overloaded when it crashed and that the driver did not tell traffic authorities he had been carrying the load when he reported the accident, delaying cleanup efforts. The report did not say when the cleanup began.
Most of China’s canals, rivers and lakes are severely tainted by industrial, agricultural and household pollution.
The government has said that since a major chemical spill on the Songhua river in northern China last November that halted water supplies to tens of millions in China and Russia, there have been at least 76 more water pollution accidents.
In the Songhua incident, local authorities were accused of reacting too slowly and delaying public disclosure.