An 80-kilometer swathe of polluted water in the Songhua River
was expected to reach Harbin City's water supply at about 5 AM
today, according to local officials yesterday giving their first
detailed explanation for the taps there being cut off.
The worst stretch of contaminated water will pass the capital of
northeast China's Heilongjiang Province on Saturday morning, said a
provincial environment protection bureau official.
On Wednesday, the State Environment Protection
Administration confirmed that pollutants containing benzene and
nitrobenzene had contaminated the river after a chemical-plant
blast in its upper reaches, leaving a trail of dead fish.
The explosion on November 13 in Jilin City, in neighboring Jilin
Province, had forced Harbin to announce that it would cut off its
water supply for four days from Tuesday midnight. The city of 3.8
million people relies largely on the Songhua for its water and is
situated on its middle reaches.
On November 20, a water-monitoring station in Zhaoyuan County on
the provincial border found that levels of the two chemicals were
much higher than State limits, said Li Ping, Heilongjiang
environmental bureau spokesperson.
At one time, the nitrobenzene level was 103.6 times higher than
normal; and the contaminated belt of water was flowing at about 2
kilometers per hour, the bureau said.
Zhang Lanying, director of Jilin
University's Environment and Resources Institute, said that
benzene, which does not dissolve in water, is a dangerous
"Massive amounts can lead to the disorder of blood cells; in
other words, leukemia," she said.
"Harbin's move to cut off the water supply was not a knee-jerk
reaction, "she added. "If the contaminated water had been supplied
to households, the result would have been unimaginable."
To speed up the flow of the river and dilute the contamination,
Jilin City has increased the water discharge volume of Fengman
Hydroelectric Power Plant, said a spokesperson.
As for cities and counties downstream of Harbin, 90 percent rely
on groundwater as their main water source, said Dong Shuhua,
director of Heilongjiang Water Information Bureau. "They will not
be very much affected."
In Harbin, the panic buying of water and attempts to get out of
the city were not as frantic on Wednesday as they had been in
previous days, according to today's China Daily.
Adding to residents' relief was 15 hours of water supply to
parts of the city and availability of bottled water in shops and
Zhao Wanxia, a salesperson, said she had stored enough water to
last for a few days. "I first wash vegetables, then use the water
to clean the floor or flush the toilet."
More than 16,000 tons of bottled water was being transported to
Harbin from neighboring cities including 10 train carriages
carrying 1,000 tons from Shenyang, capital of northeast China's
The city's 918 wells are all in operation and teams from Daqing
Oilfield are drilling another 100, said Wang Zhengbang, deputy
secretary of Harbin's municipal government.
The government has designated 10 hospitals to treat patients in
case they drink contaminated water and earmarked 10 million yuan
(US$1.2 million) to deal with emergencies and 1 million yuan
(US$120,000) to help the poor, elderly and those living alone.
Wang urged residents to keep away from the riverbank for fear of
Despite the water being cut off, officials have assured
residents of the normal operation of the city's heating system, but
they told people yesterday not to take water from the system for
(China Daily November 24, 2005)