Chinese investigators traced the source of a chemical that contaminated the water supply of 2.4 million people to a leak from an oil pipeline run by a unit of China National Petroleum Corp., the Xinhua News Agency said.
Crude oil leaked from the pipeline into the water source of a water plant in Lanzhou, a city 1,700 kilometers (1,100 miles) northwest of Shanghai, Xinhua reported today, citing Yan Zijiang, Lanzhou’s environmental protection chief. The seepage sent benzene, a carcinogenic compound used to manufacture plastics, into the city’s water supply, Xinhua said.
The incident is the latest in a series of mishaps that has raised concerns over the safety of industrial and oil facilities. The government pledged in November to conduct nationwide checks on underground oil pipelines after an explosion at a China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. pipeline in the eastern city of Qingdao killed 62 people, the deadliest accident since at least 2005.
Li Runsheng, Beijing-based spokesman for state-owned CNPC, the country’s largest oil producer, didn’t answer three calls to his office line today outside of normal business hours.
Residents of Lanzhou were warned not to drink tap water yesterday after tests showed levels of benzene in their supply surged to 20 times the national limit of 10 micrograms per liter at the peak of the contamination, Xinhua said yesterday.
Human exposure to benzene is a major public health concern as it’s linked to a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
Pictures posted yesterday on the Weibo, or microblog, account of the official Gansu Daily newspaper showed what the captions indicated to be residents making a run on bottled water in a local supermarket. The People’s Liberation Army and the police transported water from suburbs to the downtown area to ensure adequate supplies, CCTV said today, showing footage of students queuing up beside the trucks.
The city government declared tap water safe from noon today as tests showed contamination had been cleaned up, according to a statement on its website.
Crude oil leaked from a Lanzhou Petrochemical pipeline running under a channel that linked two water works run by Veolia Water, a Sino-French venture and the sole water supplier for urban Lanzhou, Xinhua cited Yan as saying.
The channel had been carrying water to the two plants for decades, Yan said.
Paris-based Veolia Environnement SA’s China unit, which owns 45 percent of the plants with the Lanzhou government, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that a culvert that transfers raw water was shut after the contamination was found.
— With assistance by Daryl Loo, Tian Ying, and Dingmin Zhang