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China Spill Prompts An Apology

Citizens deserved better information about leak of toxic chemical in waterways, mayor says.

by Jean-François Tremblay
January 11, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 2

A mayor in northern China has apologized for waiting five days before reporting a 9-metric-ton leak of aniline into a major river. In pure form, the benzene derivative can be fatal if ingested or even simply touched. No death or injuries have been reported, but the accident harmed water quality in cities downstream.

The incident was the latest example of Chinese government authorities seeming to disregard the public’s growing concern over environmental conditions in the country (C&EN, Jan. 16, 2012, page 10).

Workers at Tianji Coal Chemical Industry, a producer of phosphate fertilizers, found a spill on the morning of Dec. 31. The firm, based in Changzhi in Shanxi province, claims it reported the accident to the local environmental bureau later that day upon realizing that aniline had been pouring into the nearby Zhuozhang River.

In a statement, the government of Changzhi says it immediately switched to an alternative source of drinking water. But other cities were not informed. The provincial government of Shanxi stated that it did not learn of the problem until Jan. 5.

Anyang, a city about 100 miles downstream in Henan province, announced that it found aniline seven times in excess of legal standards in a canal flowing from the Zhuozhang that serves as a source of drinking water.

The mayor of Changzhi, Zhang Bao, issued an apology at a press conference on Jan. 7, according to the People’s Daily, a government newspaper. He claimed it took some time before authorities realized a significant amount of aniline was involved in the spill. Four senior managers at Tianji have lost their jobs since the accident.


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