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Mayor apologises for Shanxi chemical spill response

9 January 2013
The mayor of the Shanxi city of Changzhi in northern China, where a chemical leak contaminated water supplies, has apologised for the delay in dealing with the incident.

Mayor Zhang Bao said the municipal government had underestimated the severity of the chemical leak after receiving the polluter’s report on the accident on 31 December. The provincial environmental authority should have received the pollution report from Changzhi city within two hours, he said, but instead it took five days.

Mayor Zhang said that the initial reading of a 1.5-ton spill appeared manageable by the company. But officials failed to appreciate how poor company management, faulty equipment and open rainwater drains would combine to send the chemicals into the Zhuozhang River.

When the incident became public on 5 January, about 9 tons of aniline had been leaked by a chemical plant owned by the Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group into the river. Aniline is an organic compound used in the manufacture of precursors to polyurethane, and is toxic to humans.

The contamination affected drinking water supplies in downstream Handan city in neighbouring Hebei province, which has a population of more than 1m. The delayed official response caused panic buying of bottled water in Handan. However, by 8 January water quality in Yuecheng reservoir, the source of Handan’s tap water, had attained the national standard, according to Hou Risheng, chief engineer at the city’s environmental protection bureau.

An initial investigation revealed that a loose drainage valve in the plant was to blame for the leak.

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