U.S. Water News Online
BEIJING-- About 28,000 people in north China were living
off water from fire engines after supplies were cut when a truck
spilled 33 tons of toxic oil into a river, officials and residents
The overloaded truck was carrying wash oil, also called creosote,
when it overturned and dumped its contents into a river in Shanxi
province, said an official from the city of Jinzhong. He would give
only his surname, Li.
The polluted water flowed into the Yangjiapo reservoir,
contaminating 2 million cubic meters of water, the official Xinhua
News Agency said, citing the provincial environmental bureau.
The Oct. 26 spill was the latest in a series of accidents to hit
China's already polluted waterways. It wasn't clear why the incident
was not reported earlier, but officials often hold off on releasing
negative information, fearing a backlash from superiors or residents.
Investigations showed the truck's brakes failed, Xinhua said.
It said supplies have been cut to Dazhai and Sandu towns in Xiyang
county, which the reservoir serves.
Zhang Aijun, an official at the reservoir, said he was "very busy
doing anti-pollution work," and hung up.
Environmental bureau telephones rang unanswered, and a man at the
local water bureau said he was "unclear" about the situation.
Li said the city was dispatching fire trucks and distributing
bottled water to keep residents supplied.
A resident who would give only her family name, Zhao, said the
river had a yellow tinge and was "very smelly."
Zhao said that she and her husband get water from a well, but that
neighbors were relying on the trucks and bottled water.
"There's enough water for drinking, but it's impossible for them
to take a bath," she said by telephone. "No one dares to wash their
clothes in the river, either."
Crews were using pumps, tons of activated carbon and other
materials to absorb the spilled oil, Xinhua said.
It said local authorities were also trying to connect water pipes
to a large well in nearby Mahui village.
Creosote is commonly used to treat wood and is suspected of
causing cancer in humans, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry.
Most of China's canals, rivers and lakes are severely tainted by
agricultural and household pollution. Chinese leaders say the country
faces a critical water shortage, partly due to chronic pollution and
In August, China said it would spend $125 billion to improve water
treatment and recycling by 2010 to fight the mounting threat of urban
Last November, a chemical plant blast spilled tons of benzene and
other toxic material into the Songhua river, halting water supplies
to millions in China and neighboring Russia. Local authorities were
accused of reacting too slowly and delaying public disclosure of the
Xinhua reported that $1.1 billion would be invested over the next
five years to control pollution in the Songhua. It said the money
will go to build urban sewage treatment and garbage disposal
facilities, and to clean up industrial pollution.
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