Chinese Mayor Apologizes for Drinking Water Contamination

The mayor of the Chinese city of Changzhi apologized for a delay in reporting a poisonous leak from a chemical plant that caused the cutoff of water to 1 million people, the state Xinhua News Agency said.

The environmental authority in China’s northern Shanxi province didn’t receive a report about the pollution from the city until five days after the Dec. 31 incident when it should have been reported within two hours, the official news agency said, citing a news conference with the mayor.

About 9 metric tons of aniline, a colorless and poisonous liquid chemical, spilled from a plant owned by Shanxi Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group, which also makes fertilizer, disrupting the drinking water supply in Handan city downstream in Hebei province, according to Xinhua. The leak was due to a loose drainage valve, Xinhua said.

Thirty more tons of aniline, which can be used to make pesticides, have been found in a nearby disused reservoir, it said, citing a local emergency response agency. The local environmental bureau is cleaning up the contamination in its reservoir, where water won’t be used until tests prove it safe.

Two telephone calls to Tianji Coal seeking comment were unanswered outside regular business hours today.

Handan partially resumed operations of its Tiexi water purification plant today after halting on Jan. 5 due to the contamination, Xinhua said, citing local authorities. The city also provided water from another plant using underground supplies to meet demand. Water supply to about 85 percent of the residents in Handan’s main urban areas returned to normal yesterday, the news agency said.

Four officials from the Tianji Fangyuan unit of Shanxi Tianji who hold “direct responsibilities” were removed from their posts because of the leak, Xinhua said in a separate report.