U.S. Water News Online
BEIJING -- Sulfuric acid leaked into the water
supply from a chemical factory in central China, poisoning
at least 26 villagers, authorities said.
An underground pipe broke at the factory -- part of the
Xiaoping coal mine complex in Banqiao town in Hunan
province's Chenxi county -- causing the chemical leak into
groundwater supplies, said Yang Changyou of the Chenxi
"There are 26 people seriously poisoned and hospitalized,
and more than 200 villagers are receiving free medical
checkups, but no one died in the accident," Yang said.
The government was providing free bottled water and water
from four fire engines, he said, adding that authorities
were trying to track and contain the leak.
Some of the most polluted cities in the world are in
China, where many rivers and lakes are toxic after decades
of breakneck industrial and economic growth. The State
Environmental Protection Administration says about a quarter
of all the water in China's seven main river systems is too
toxic for human contact.
A man who answered a call to the Chenxi County People's
Hospital said the hospital "was packed with poisoned
villagers, most of them are suffering vomiting, swollen
faces and other symptoms." He then hung up, saying he was
"too busy." He didn't give his name.
The factory, which was not listed in the phone directory,
could not be immediately reached for comment. It was not
clear if the factory and mine are private or state owned.
A 50-year-old construction worker in Banqiao said many
residents were fleeing their villages because the chemical
leak had polluted the water and air, and that only elderly
The man, surnamed Li, said villagers were suffering from
bloated stomachs, swollen faces and itching skin. Li did not
want to give his full name because he feared retribution by
the local government.
According to the Beijing News, the local environment
protection bureau launched an investigation into possible
water supply pollution after a retired coal miner in the
area complained his drinking water had turned yellow. The
paper said as many as 1,000 people have been poisoned, but
the claim could not be verified.
The initial investigation found the water was safe to
drink, but 10 days later villagers living near the factory
fell sick, the newspaper said. A second investigation found
arsenic and tin and other metals in the water supply, it
Chinese regulators have difficulty enforcing
environmental rules because local leaders are reluctant to
take steps that might hurt industry or reduce jobs and tax
revenues. Local environmental protection bureaus often
report to their local governments.
China's priority is developing the economy, the recent
rapid growth of which has lifted millions out of poverty.
Nevertheless, Beijing has started to show greater
willingness to clean up the environment after a series of
A chemical plant spewed tons of toxic nitrobenzene and
other chemicals into northern China's Songhua River in 2005,
forcing authorities to temporarily halt supplies of running
water to millions of people.
Last year, a lead-zinc spill in a river in the same
province forced a one-day cut in water supplies to more than
200,000 people. Also, blue-green algae polluted eastern
China's Lake Taihu, which provides drinking water for
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