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Pollution concern grows as toxic spill nears Liuzhou

1 February 2012
Toxic metal contamination of a river in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region is threatening the drinking water supply of millions of people. The spill of carcinogenic cadmium from a chemical plant into the Long River was first discovered on 15 January. At Nuomitan hydroelectric station, 57km upstream of the city of Liuzhou, cadmium levels five times higher than the national standard for drinking water were recorded.

The Long is a tributary of the Liu River, which flows into the Xi River in Guangdong, which, in turn, is a major tributary of the Pearl River.

Guangxi environmental protection department said seven chemical plant executives had been detained for suspicion of discharging the industrial waste.

The local environment watchdog has set up 20 surveillance stations along a 200km stretch of river and more than 210 surveillance workers are monitoring water quality.

Local authorities have dumped more than 3,000 tonnes of neutralisers, made from dissolved aluminium chloride, into sections of river in both Liuzhou and the upstream city of Hechi, where the spill is thought to have occurred.

Both the Liuzhou government and the city’s freshwater supplier have insisted they are capable of lowering cadmium levels sufficiently to ensure safe drinking water, and they urged the public not to panic. However, concern is growing and many residents have been stocking up on bottled water since last week.

Cadmium has many common industrial uses, including in the production of batteries, especially rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries.

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