Copper factory executives detained, county official resigns following water contamination

09:40, July 17, 2010      

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Three managers at a copper plant have been detained and a county official has resigned after the plant contaminated a local river in Shanghang County, located in east China's Fujian Province.

Lin Wenxian and Wang Yong, head and deputy head of the plant owned by Zijin Mining Group Co., a leading Chinese gold producer and also a listed company, as well as Liu Shengyuan, who was put in charge of the plant's environmental protection, have been detained by the public security bureau of Shanghang County, according to Wen Songxing, commissar of Shanghang County Public Security Bureau, at a press conference held Thursday night.

Chen Jun'an, head of the county's environmental protection bureau, also resigned in the wake of the river pollution incident, said Liang Basheng, deputy head of Shanghang County Government.

Pollution from the copper plant has severely contaminated the Tingjiang River, killing large quantities of fish.

A joint investigation conducted by the Fujian provincial and Longyan municipal environmental protection authorities said the waste water leak had occurred among a number of the plant's tanks, including one sewage tank, due to poor maintenance of the membrane.

The persistent heavy rains in past weeks caused the impermeable seal of the sewage tank to burst, releasing a large quantity of waste water, according to the investigation.

Additionally, the investigation revealed that, altogether, 9,100 cubic meters of waste water spewed from the blown-out sewage tank and flowed through an "illegally built passage" into the Tingjiang River between 4 p.m. July 3 and 2:30 p.m. July 4.

The investigation also found the "passage" was dug through the impermeable wall of the surveillance tank, which sits next to the sewage tank and had been built to monitor and collect waste water leaked from the sewage tank, and this passage was actually connected to an outfall used to drain flood water.

The investigation further showed the plant failed to improve the sewage system, as ordered by the provincial environmental protection authorities as early as September 2009 when they found the plant discharged excess waste water into the Tingjiang River.

The investigators said the company and local environmental protection authorities failed to promptly detect the pollution because the water quality monitoring facilities set up in the lower reach of the Tingjiang River were damaged.

The county's public security bureau has also begun an investigation into the incident.

The plant has been ordered to suspend production and improve anti-leakage measures for all its tanks, as well as launch an investigation to see whether the shallow ground water has also been contaminated.

Shares for Zijin Mining dropped 5.43 percent to close at 5.22 yuan (about 0.77 U.S. dollars) on the Shanghai bourse Friday.

The investigators said the water of the Tingjiang River, although light blue-colored due to the copper contained in the leaked waste water, continues to meet national standards for drinking water.

However, the river still contains more copper than allowed by the national standards for the fishery industry, said Lan Fuyan, another deputy head of Shanghang County.

Xue Youhou, a resident of Haokang Village in Shanghang, said the county government had asked more than 80 households in the village to stop cultivating fish in the net pen due to concerns over the water quality.

Although the county government had promised to offer skill training to assist those earning a living and compensated their losses after dismantling their equipment, Xue, along with many others, still felt reluctant to abandon fish farming, which brought the family about 100,000 yuan (14,760 U.S. dollars) every year.

"I hope the government cleans the water as soon as possible so that villagers can resume their business," said Xue Lichang, head of Haokang Village.



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