U.S. Water News Online
KHABAROVSK, Russia -- An environmental official said it
will take years to determine the environmental impact of the toxic
river spill in China that has sent residents of Russia's Far East
scrambling to secure stores of potable water.
The spill on China's Songhua River is 300 miles from Russia and
moving at about 0.5 mph to 1 mph, the Emergency Situations Ministry
Oleg Mitvol, the deputy chief of the Federal Natural Resources
Service, said the huge slick of benzene and other chemicals that
poured into the river after a Chinese chemical plant explosion on
Nov. 13 could reach Russian territory in four-five days. He told a
Moscow news conference that a higher than normal level of benzene had
been detected in the river but it was not determined "whether it's
ours or Chinese."
"Benzene molecules don't carry passports," he said.
Mitvol said that after the toxic slick passes Khabarovsk,
authorities will have to continue treating water at least until next
June as ice containing benzene will melt in the spring.
Asked whether the chemical spill could be compared to the 1986
Chernobyl nuclear disaster that contaminated a large territory with
radioactive fallout, Mitvol said no, but added that "the situation is
extremely problematic from the point of view of ecology."
"We will be able to calculate it only in several years," he said
after traveling to Khabarovsk, a city of about 580,000.
The Songhua feeds into Russia's Amur River that runs through the
city of Khabarovsk, one of the largest cities in the sparsely
populated Far East. With a steady snow falling, the Amur was iced
over near Khabarovsk's river port, where summer vacationers and
shuttle traders make trips in warmer months between China and Russia.
Residents have scooped up bottled water in stores, leaving many
shops with only carbonated water. People in the city are already
stocking up on water at homes, filling bathtubs and any container
they can find.
City officials plan to send inspectors across the city to stop
profiteering on water, Khabarovsk's DTV channel reported. Prices for
bottled water have doubled in some markets.
To help purify the river water after the slick passes, the local
city legislature is demanding $173.5 million from the central
government, DTV television said. Authorities are using charcoal
filters to cleanse tap water of the toxic chemicals.
Mitvol said that the federal government should spend millions of
dollars to fund the switch to supplying Khabarovsk from the Tungussk
The Amur has long suffered from pollution crossing the border from
China, Mitvol said. He said that the current crisis exacerbated the
already long-term presence of heavy metals and other pollutants
carried from the Chinese-Russian border to the Sea of Okhotsk, near
Harbin, a Chinese city of 3.8 million people, suffered a five-day
shutdown of water supplies because of the chemical spill following a
Nov. 13 explosion at a chemical plant, provoking panic-buying of
bottled drinking water.
The government of China's President Hu Jintao apologized to
China's public and to Russia.
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