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City on Alert for Cadmium River Pollution

A toxic slick on the Beijiang River has caused Yingde, a city of 1.06 million people in south China’s Guangdong Province, to go on high alert, Xinhua News Agency reported today.


Environment protection departments said a state-owned smelting plant in Shaoguan City, about 90 km north of Yingde, had discharged cadmium into the river, making levels there nearly 10 times the national safety standard and "seriously endangering" water safety along the river's lower reaches.


It was not yet clear when the discharge took place but Yingde’s city environment protection office said the polluted stretch arrived at Shakou Town by 10:30 PM on Tuesday and was expected to arrive in central Yingde in two or three days.


It added that this could result in the water supply for 100,000 residents being shut off.


People living north of Baishiyao hydropower plant were warned not to drink tap water, according to a TV government announcement yesterday evening.


The provincial environment protection department said people's lives had so far remained normal along the 470-km-long Beijiang, which runs north to south into the Pearl River and is the major source of drinking water for Yingde. It provides 6 billion cubic meters of water annually to northern Guangdong.


Yingde has begun to build a 1.4-km-long pipe linking with the supply line of a suburban reservoir to provide clean water directly to the city center.


"The water pipe will be built in 36 hours before the toxic stretch arrives in the urban district," said a Yingde government official.


Water vehicles, including 15 fire engines, have been used to convey drinking water to the city center, and local environmental authorities have established a dozen monitoring stations along the Beijiang.


"We are required to take water samples for examination every two hours and so far, the water quality is OK," said He Yuanhang, a Baishiyao Hydropower Plant worker at the water quality monitoring station in Yingde.


A waterworks several kilometers north to the power plant halted supplies last Sunday, said He.


The smelting plant responsible has ceased operating and closed the wastewater outlet blamed for the discharge, according to Shaoguan’s environment protection office.


The provincial environment protection office said cadmium levels had continued to fall since the local government began to dilute the river’s water with that from reservoirs upstream.


Meanwhile in the northeast, the toxic river slick there has passed Tongjiang where the Songhua River joins the Heilong River bordering China and Russia. The State Environmental Protection Administration reported yesterday that nitrobenzene levels there had fallen to 0.0152 mg per liter by 10 PM on Monday.


(Xinhua News Agency December 21, 2005)

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