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Taking aim on water quality woes

By Jin Zhu (China Daily)

09:50, February 17, 2012

BEIJING - A shortage of water quality monitoring stations is hindering China's ability to mitigate damage done by chemical spills in the nation's waterways, a senior official responsible for water resources said.

Due to the rapid expansion of heavy chemical manufacturing, a great number of chemical plants have settled along rivers, especially along the banks of the Yangtze River, China's longest waterway.

"Water safety may be at risk when environmental accidents occur because many rivers are sources of drinking water for cities along the banks," said Hu Siyi, deputy minister of water resources.

"But at this time, government authorities cannot notice every accident in a timely manner because of the limited number of water quality monitoring sites across the country. In some areas, monitoring is done only once a month," he said at a news conference organized by the State Council Information Office on Thursday.

In 2011, a total of 542 environmental accidents were handled nationwide, of which nearly 60 percent were triggered by traffic accidents and mishaps in the process of production, statistics from the Ministry of Environmental Protection showed.

In a case that happened in February, a leak of phenol from a cargo ship from South Korea potentially threatened the water supply in Zhenjiang, a city of 3 million people in East China's Jiangsu province.

Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, is an organic compound soluble in water. It can irritate the eyes and skin, and if absorbed in large amounts, can damage the liver and kidneys.

Officials said serious water shortages and pollution are "quite severe" and may threaten the country's sustainable growth.

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