Greenpeace calls on the government to protect local people and environment from chemical spill in Northeast China

Press release - 2005-11-25
Greenpeace called on the Chinese government to adopt every prompt and effective measure to protect the health of the local people and the environment from the pollution caused by an explosion at a chemical factory in the Jilin Province on 13 November, and also to stop the further spread of the pollution.

The explosion released into the Songhua River about 100 tonnes of highly toxic benzene which is highly toxic and carcinogenic. Benzene in water can result in exposure by inhalation, by skin absorption and through ingestion. Once in the body it passes rapidly to the blood stream and can accumulate temporarily in the fat and bone marrow. Long term exposure to benzene in the air is known to cause leukemia and there are concerns that the same effects could result from long-term low level or short term high level exposure in water or food.

"We regret to see such a large scale of chemical pollution. The State Environmental Protection Administration has rightly intervened into the case and has also taken the lead in tackling the pollution problems. We urge the Chinese authorities to make even greater efforts in protecting the local people and the environment. It should for example conduct a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the pollution and, on that basis, draw up and implement an effective clean-up plan," says Kevin May, the Toxics Campaign Manager of Greenpeace China.

In this incident, 30 people were injured and 10,000 residents had to be evacuated. Residents of Harbin have to rely on bottled water until the chemical slick clears the city. Besides, if any benzene has seeped into groundwater, it will cause long-term impact on the environment.

"The government should keep monitoring the health of the local people and the environment, also provide assistance to any victim of the pollution in seeking compensation from the polluting chemical company," added May.

In the long run, the Chinese government should ensure the effective enforcement of the environmental laws and standards across the country, in particular, in industrial areas, if it is to prevent similar cases. It should also actively review related legislation and policies, and strengthen them if so deemed necessary, said May.