Exposed Phosphoric Sludge Threatens Earthquake Zone

Feature Story - 2008-05-27
Greenpeace’s research team at the Sichuan earthquake disaster zone has discovered a large amount of exposed phosphoric sludge directly downstream from a possible flood. Our team immediately notified the government of the situation.

Greenpeace surveys the Sichuan earthquake aftermath and warns the public of chemical hazards

At the An County Rong Sen Chemical Plant, and a neighboring unnamed factory, are large stores of pond sludge containing phosphorous. This sludge is a highly volatile chemical waste and poses a great threat to the environment and human health.

Toxics campaigner Yue Yihua, who is at the site of the chemical waste, observed flames on the surface of the sludge and detected a strong odor of rotten eggs. The pond sludge is highly flammable and emits the poisonous gas phosphorus pentoxide when burned.

The sludge lies exposed and vulnerable to the elements. An County is located downstream from a barrier lake formed by debris and landslides after the quake. Should another aftershock cause the barrier lake to break its banks, the phosphoric sludge will get swept up in the ensuing flood, resulting in widespread contamination of water sources.

Yue further emphasizes that "the sludge needs to be transferred to a safe location. We have already notified the government to remove these hazardous materials and keep them contained."

Though the government has made it clear that all chemical plants in the Sichuan earthquake disaster zone must suspend operations and remove all hazardous materials immediately, a minority of factories has ignored the notice. Just recently, Greenpeace also found 20 tons of concentrated sulphuric acid at the Chaoyang Fertilizer Factory in Xiushui Town, which is yet to be removed.

Since May 15 – three days after the first earthquake – Greenpeace has visited 41 chemical plants in the worst-hit areas including Dujiangyan, Jiangyou and Mianzhu. The local and national environmental protection departments have been notified of all chemical hazards and are acting to eliminate them. Greenpeace has also taken the initiative to place signs in dangerous areas to warn the public not to come near these areas but to find shelter in safe locations.