Health of millions threatened
The Songhua River is severely polluted after an explosion, on 1 November, at the Jilin Chemical Industrial Co., a unit of ‘PetroChina Co’, China’s biggest oil company. Five workers were killed in the explosion.
The plant produces benzene, which is a carcinogen (causes cancer) and is difficult for people to detect, as it does not have a strong smell or colour. So far, the level of nitrobenzene found in the Songhua River is 10 times the level deemed safe.
The river is the main source of fresh water in Harbin, the regional capital of Heilongjiang, and home to nine million people. The authorities cut the water supply on Tuesday, and supermarkets have sold out of bottled water.
The crisis shows the widespread distrust of working people towards the authorities, who last Monday said the water supply was cut off for four days because of "maintenance work". Later, they admitted that the pollution was connected to an industrial accident at Jilin, 350 km upstream. They acknowledged that the water stoppage might last longer than four days. The long queues for railway tickets to get out of the city are a testament of the distrust of the masses towards the authorities. In an attempt to regain people’s confidence, Zhang Zuoyi, the governor of Heilongjiang province, said “I will drink the first glass of water once supplies are resumed”.
However, the accident is not the only threat to the water and the environment in China. Just before the pollution spill, an environmental group in Harbin released a report warning that many factories are secretly dumping wastewater and chemicals into the river.
Even according to official figures, 90% of water in China’s cities is polluted and 70% of all lakes and rivers. Seven out of the ten most polluted cities in the world are in China. This shows the price working people have to pay for the regime’s policies and because of extreme exploitation by transnational companies.
This article was first published on chinaworker.org (24/11/05)