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State Council Team to Probe River Pollution

The State Council set up a new investigation team on Tuesday to establish the chain of events involved in the recent chemical plant explosion and ensuing river pollution in the northeastern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang and to determine who should be held accountable.

It will include an investigation into how the benzene was discharged into the Songhua River without proper treatment.

The State Council had previously dispatched a work team to Harbin, where the water supply was shut off for five days due to the contamination, and Premier Wen Jiabao visited the city as well.

Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration for Work Safety, was appointed head of the team and the Supreme People's Procuratorate will participate in it.

Seven vice minister-level officials from the Ministry of Supervision, Commission for Supervision and Management of State-owned Properties, All-China Federation of Trade Unions, State Environmental Protection Administration and provincial governments of Jilin and Heilongjiang were appointed deputy heads.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told a regular news conference yesterday that Wen wrote to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on Sunday about the river pollution that is expected to also affect areas of Russia, pledging to further enhance cooperation to reduce damage from pollution spills.

According to Heilongjiang provincial information center, the State Development Bank of China has approved a 150 million yuan (US$19 million) emergency loan to help Harbin deal with water pollution, with another 490 million yuan (US$61 million) short-term loan expected in a week.

The blast at a chemical plant in Jilin, owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, on November 13 released large amounts of benzene and nitrobenzene into the Songhua River that has since threatened many settlements' water supplies as it proceeds downstream.

(Xinhua News Agency December 7, 2005)

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