Chemical barrels washed into river, water supply cut off

08:32, July 29, 2010      

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Residents stand along a bank of the Songhua River on Wednesday in Jilin province, where more than 1,000 barrels containing explosive chemicals surfaced after being dislodged by the flood. [China Daily]

Confusion prevailed in Jilin city on Wednesday when the water supply was unexpectedly cut off, triggering a run on bottled water and widespread rumors about the drinking water being contaminated amid the accidental release of 1,000 containers of explosive chemicals into a local river.

The water supply of Jilin, the second-largest city of Northeast China's Jilin province with a population of 4.3 million, was cut off at about 1 pm, while authorities have yet to indicate when it will resume.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 barrels containing explosive chemicals washed into the Songhua River, the main source of drinking water for the city, at around 10 am in Yongji county as a result of a flood brought on by rain, local officials said.

In total, the containers from the Xinyaqiang chemical plant contained more than 160,000 kg of explosive chemical fluid, officials added.

"I saw many big blue plastic barrels floating on the river, but I didn't expect that they contained chemical material. The surface of the river was much higher than before and, besides the big barrels, there were branches, rubbish and even two pigs struggling," said He Yumei, a nurse at Jilin Central Hospital.

Local authorities quickly set up eight perimeters along the river and, up to now, over 200 people have been dispatched to the area.

The rescue work continues, and local environmental protection authorities are closely monitoring the water quality of the river, according to local authorities.

Officials from Jilin Water Group said that cutting off the water supply had to do with the maintenance of electricity supplies.

The cutoff, they added, will not affect daily water usage and that testing has yet to show evidence of contamination.

People in the area received no such notice or information about the disruption, however.

The rumors of the contamination circulated on a website after the water service was suspended, prompting throngs of people to rush to supermarkets for bottled water.

Such rumors had their precedents: In 2005, a petrochemical plant explosion in the city caused severe damage to the area's water supply.

On Wednesday, at the Tianjin Street Market, the largest wholesale food and drink market in the city, mineral water and other drinks were almost completely out of stock.

Fast food like biscuits, instant noodles and sausage also became hot commodities, with prices boosted in proportion to demand.

"At first, I did not know what happened, and I just heard someone say that a chemical plant upstream of the Songhua River collapsed and contaminated the river water," said Chen Wenbin, a nearby resident.

"Then I saw people run to supermarket and grocery stores to buy water. The original price of a case of mineral water is only 24 yuan - but now its sells at 50 yuan," he said.

"Our store of water was snapped up within half an hour and now almost all the soft drinks are sold out. Only several cases of red tea drinks are left," said Chang Yu, a local grocery owner said.

As of 5:00 pm, the pH value of the water in the Songhua River remained within the normal level, and other routine monitors indicated no abnormal changes, said the officials of the information department of Jilin.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

Source: China Daily(By Liu Mingtai and He Na)


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