H@rb1n Update

I’m at work, so I don’t have any time for commentary on this. But here is an update on the H@rb1n situation:

HARBIN, China (AFP) – A chemical plant explosion has severely polluted one of China’s biggest rivers, causing water supplies to be cut for millions of people and sparking pollution fears in neighbouring Russia.

The explosion at a PetroChina factory in the northeastern province of Jilin led to an outpouring of the carcinogen benzene into the 1,897-kilometer-long (1,176-mile) Songhua river, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said Wednesday.

“After the blast at the chemical plant the monitoring station in Jilin found that benzene went into the river and polluted the water,” the EPA said in a statement on its website.

“Benzene levels were 108 times above national safety levels.”

The announcement came 10 days after the November 13 explosion and followed repeated denials from government officials that there had been any major environmental impact.

In Harbin, the capital of neighbouring Heilongjiang province about 380 kilometers downstream from the blast site, water supplies were cut off at midnight on Tuesday over the pollution fears, the local government said.

The Songhua is the main source of drinking water for more than three million urban residents of Harbin, which has a total population of about nine million and is one of China’s biggest cities.

The EPA said the pollutants in the water were expected to hit Harbin around 5:00 am on Thursday, although the contaminants would be diluted.

Xinhua news agency quoted government sources as saying that Harbin needs 1,400 tons of active carbon to purify the contaminated water in the Songhua but is currently 700 tons short.

The polluting material index had dropped to 29 times above national safety levels when the contaminants reached the border of Jilin and Heilongjiang on Sunday, the EPA said.

However the polluted water flowed past Songyuan and Zhaoyuan, two big cities between the blast site and Harbin that lie along the Songhua, before the government admitted the contamination.

Songyuan has a population of just under three million and Zhaoyuan has about 450,000 residents. An official from Songyuan city government told AFP on Wednesday that its water supplies had not been cut over the past 10 days.

I don’t know how sensitive this topic is, so please let me know if I need to do additional ed1t1ng…

The Discussion: 14 Comments

I am curious as to how widespread this knowledge is in the rest of China..

November 23, 2005 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

CCTV is reporting that there was an explosion, the river has been polluted with chemicals, and Harbin has no drinking water.

November 23, 2005 @ 3:39 pm | Comment

I believe that we chinese will pay the price for the enviormental pollution. To make more achievements in economic area, we chinese officials from central goverment level to local level always ignore the enviroment protection(deliberately or unconsciouslly). we sacrifice the enviroment so as to gain more economic progress. one day we will have to pay the cost for our ignorance.

November 23, 2005 @ 6:53 pm | Comment

That time seems to have arrive. 4 million people without water. Economic progress is wonderful. But if it comes at the expense of air and water, it’s not worth very much.

November 23, 2005 @ 6:59 pm | Comment

not much indeed. this is exactly the question i pose to many of my students. none of them get it. well, very few anyway. the propaganda works very well here.

November 23, 2005 @ 8:11 pm | Comment

Jeffrey, have you read the comments of Pan Yue, China’s Dept. Minister for the Environment? He’s bluntly stated that China’s current rate of growth is not ecologically sustainable, and that China’s “miracle” will end soon because of the environmental costs of development. I just checked the link, you can read an interview with him here. One problem is that far-seeing officials like Pan simply don’t have the power to enforce the regulations they draft. Still, I’ve always held out the hope that a grass-roots environmental movement might take hold in China, one that could really bring about some changes. That’s when I’m in an optimistic mood, of course.

November 23, 2005 @ 9:46 pm | Comment

Other Lisa,
I’ve just been doing environmental protection with my second year college students, and I was amazed at how much better informed and more practical they are about it than my students of 4-5 years ago. They’re actually aware of the issues, and capable of telling me just what they can do to make a difference to the environment.
Of course, the question is, will they put it into practise? With the central government focusing on the issues more and more, I think there’s a pretty decent chance that we’ll be seeing grassroots concern and action soon – not just in the polluted villages, but also in the cities.

November 23, 2005 @ 11:17 pm | Comment

I’m wondering if smoking will be prohibited at this year’s Harbin Ice Festival, given the possible flammability of the sculptures.

November 24, 2005 @ 6:16 am | Comment

Dish, I agree and I hope you and I are right. That’s very heartening to hear about your students. I just posted an update expressing some of these thoughts…

November 24, 2005 @ 11:57 am | Comment

This paragraph in today’s New York Times pretty much sums it up…

“Specialists say China has some of the best environmental laws in the world, but the sheer scale of development, inadequate planning, corruption and poor enforcement often result in uncontrolled pollution.”

November 24, 2005 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

yes, china has the best laws, and also a law guaranteeing democracy.

it is the implementation and enforcement of such law that is problematic.

it just takes time, and major events like this to move up the learning curve, and get rid of the bad habits.

November 24, 2005 @ 6:27 pm | Comment

it just takes time, and major events like this to move up the learning curve, and get rid of the bad habits.

I guess we should all be thankful this happened. It’s a nice learning experience.

November 24, 2005 @ 6:42 pm | Comment

it is ironical and sad, that the bigger the cost, the more they learn.

so there is good side for sad things (like SARS and this sunghua incidence), but more troubling concern if we got luck in complacency.

November 26, 2005 @ 9:41 pm | Comment

” It’s a nice learning experience.”

i see the sarcasm. but you are right this time.
i just hope this is not an infinite hole and the hole will be filled in some near future. and i am an optimist.

November 26, 2005 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

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