Zijin toxic waste spill spreads to Guangdong

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Ministry of Environmental Protection officials in Guangdong issued an urgent notice to their colleagues in Fujian on Sunday that toxic waste from Friday's leak at the Zijinshan Copper Mine had reached the lower reaches of the Tingjiang River in Guangdong.

The copper content in the Meizhou section of the river in Guangdong soared from 0.0135mg/L on July 15 to 0.0233mg/L the next day, posing a clear threat to the livelihoods of fish farmers in the area. Worse yet, the content remained on the rise over the weekend, according to a copy of the notice made available to China Daily on Monday.

The pollution "has exerted an explicit influence on the trans-provincial river section," the notice said, "and will pose big challenge to local fish farming."

Authorities in Guangdong have recommended that Fujian environmental protection officials appoint a liaison to oversee the elimination of the pollution, in addition to coordinating other efforts, such as information exchanges between the two provinces.

"The executives of our company and I have been in great remorse," Zijin Chairman Chen Jinghe said in an apology on Shanghang Television on Monday evening. "We're willing to shoulder all responsibilities and will not have any complaints."

These events could hardly have come at a worse time for the company. In addition to the pollution scandal, Zijin officials now face charges they enjoy protection from local government officials.

Zijin's senior management is composed largely of former government officials, according to the Economic Information Daily, a newspaper operated by Xinhua News Agency.

Zijin recruits retired officials by offering generous annual salaries of up to hundreds of thousands of yuan, according to the report, citing a confidential source in the local environmental protection bureau.

"The close relationship between the local government and Zijin Mining helps cover the environmental crises," said the official on Monday. "Some law enforcement actions may not be prosecuted fully either."

The Ministry of Environmental Protection - which initiated a new study on Monday in response to last week's incident - found Zijin disregarded official warnings in September 2009, saying the volume of waste water entering the Tingjiang River was too high, and that repair work was needed.

The company similarly failed to heed warnings to repair an automatic online water quality monitoring system located downstream from the plant that could have detected the increasing volume of wastewater flowing into the river.

The company remains under fire stemming from an incident that took place between July 3 and July 4 in which 9,100 cubic meters of waste erupted from a blown-out tank at the Zijinshan Copper Mine and released into the Tingjiang River over a period of nearly 24 hours.

Then on late Friday, the mine sprang yet another leak, which was quickly and successfully capped, company officials had claimed on Saturday.

Chen Jinghe admitted to China Daily on Sunday that the location of the sewage tank was a poor one, which made the area prone to pollution accidents.

The overall wealth of Shanghang county, the site of the environmental degradation, has been growing rapidly in recent years, said Liu Shimin, the chief of local financial bureau, in no small part thanks to the presence of Zijin Mining operations.

Zijin Mining, moreover, accounted for some 60 percent of the county's total revenue last year, according to county government statistics.

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