A toxic metal spill in the Guangxi region that contaminated a tributary of the Pearl River won’t cause cuts in tap water supplies to Liuzhou city or other downstream areas, according to a local official.
Two weeks of cleanup have contained the spill, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late yesterday, citing Feng Zhennian, an official with the regional environmental protection department. Guangxi started to overhaul the heavy-metal industry, seeking to halt pollution discharges, it said.
Chinese workers have dumped chemicals to contain the cadmium spill, detected Jan. 15 upstream of the city of Hechi, which killed fish and prompted panic buying of bottled water.
Lead poisoning from battery makers, fluoride leaks from solar panel plants and acid spills from mines have sparked outrage in China as three decades of growth transformed the nation into the world’s second-biggest economy and its largest polluter.
The concentration of cadmium near the water plant in Liuzhou, a city of 1.5 million people, was about twice the official limit of 0.005 milligrams per liter yesterday, a sign the spill is under control, Xinhua cited Feng as saying. Concentrations in treated tap water were no higher than 0.00065 milligrams per liter, it said.
Cadmium, used in batteries and paint pigments, may cause kidney dysfunction and cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The metal will have a lasting environmental impact on fish and soil when it sinks to the riverbed, China National Radio reported previously, citing Li Li, a researcher at Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.
Pollutants were first detected in Longjiang river, a tributary upstream of the Liujiang river, on Jan. 15, with the cadmium concentration near the Lalang reservoir 80 times higher than the official limit, Xinhua said, citing Feng.
The cadmium concentration in the reservoir has returned to normal, Feng said yesterday, according to Xinhua. The emergency center that Feng runs estimated the total volume of contaminants at 20 metric tons, Xinhua reported.
Seven chemical-plant executives have been detained on suspicion of causing the industrial-waste discharges, Xinhua said. The provincial industry overhaul will include heavy-metal producers and makers of batteries, leather products and chemicals, the official news service said.
The cadmium spill hasn’t affected the quality of the water at the Dongjiang river system where Hong Kong gets its supply, Gabriel Pang, a spokesman at the city’s Water Supplies Department, said by phone yesterday. The contamination is at the Xijiang river system, he said.
Several instances of chemical spills have threatened Chinese cities’ drinking water in the past decade. A 2005 explosion at a unit of PetroChina Co. in northern China caused 100 tons of toxins to be spilled into the Songhua river, forcing authorities to shut off tap water for more than 3 million people in the city of Harbin. That incident led to the resignation of Xie Zhenhua as China’s top environmental protection official.
— With assistance by Joshua Fellman