20 tons of acid spill into drinking water source

08:05, June 07, 2011      

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Supermarket customers in Hangzhou buy up bottled water yesterday after news of a chemical spill into a river that is a major source of drinking water for many cities in Zhejiang Province, including Hangzhou. A tanker which had broken down on a highway near the river was hit by another truck and spilled 20 tons of carbolic acid.

A chemical spill into the Xin'an River, a major source of drinking water for east China's Zhejiang Province, has led five water utility companies to stop drawing water from the river and triggered panic buying in the provincial capital.

As of noon yesterday, supplies to at least 552,200 people in cities near Hangzhou, Zhejiang's capital, had been affected, the city's environmental protection bureau said.

Authorities have been closely monitoring the river since late Saturday night, when the chemical leaked as the result of a road accident, said Lao Xinxiang, a deputy director and spokesman for the Hangzhou Environmental Protection Bureau.

A tanker loaded with carbolic acid broke down at about 11pm on Saturday on an expressway about 1.5 kilometers from the Xin'an River. It was carrying 31 tons of the chemical from Shanghai's Gaoqiao area to a chemical factory in Longyou County in the western part of the province.

Workers were repairing the tanker when a heavy truck rammed into it, causing the tank to burst. A repairman was killed at the scene.

An estimated 20 tons of the chemical leaked out, and heavy rain swept it into the river, local authorities said.

Carbolic acid and its fumes are corrosive to the eyes, skin and respiratory system. Skin contact with the substance may cause burns. It can also harm the central nervous system, heart, lungs and kidneys, experts say.

The Xin'an River, which feeds into the Fuchun and Qiantang rivers, is the main source of drinking water for several cities in Zhejiang, including Hangzhou.

The Xin'an River dam has been discharging water at an increased rate of 1,239 cubic meters per second to dilute the spill. The previous discharge rate was 268 cubic meters per second.

Although supplies of drinking water in downtown Hangzhou have not been contaminated, panic buying of bottled water has emptied the shelves of some supermarkets in the city.

Residents began buying up bottles of water yesterday after hearing news of the leak.

A Wu-Mart chain store sold 150 cartons of bottled water in three hours, Xinhua news agency said. Usually the same amount would last a week. Residents were buying five or six cartons, each containing four 4-liter bottles of water, at a time, the report said.

A female resident surnamed Gong, who bought 60 bottles of water at another supermarket, said she was stockpiling for at least three days.

The chemical leak comes just days after China's Deputy Environment Minister Li Ganjie said that many of the country's major rivers were so polluted they did not even meet the standards needed for agricultural irrigation.

Source: Shanghai Daily
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