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City rushes water plant into action
Updated: 2005-12-06 19:13

A city of 480,000 people in China's northeast rushed a new water plant into operation as a toxic spill on a nearby river arrived Tuesday and the city was forced to shut down other water facilities for fear of contamination, the local government said.

City rushes water plant into action
A resident walks across the frozen Songhua River in Jiamusi, in China's northeast Heilongjiang province Monday Dec. 5, 2005. A slick of toxic benzene, which spilled into the river after a Nov. 13 chemical plant explosion, causing cities along the river to shut down water plants, is expected to arrive in Jiamusi Tuesday. [AP]
The spill of cancer-causing benzene and related compounds into the Songhua River has disrupted drinking water supplies to millions of people in China, and a Russian city downstream is bracing for the arrival of the chemicals early next week.

Tests showed that the spill reached the Chinese city of Jiamusi early Tuesday, said a man with the public affairs department of the Heilongjiang Provincial Environmental Protection Office. The man would only give his surname, Wu.

The nitrobenzene density was more than eight times above the safe level, the Xinhua News Agency said. The chemical steam has been getting longer and more diluted as it flows slowly though the ice-covered river.

Upstream in Harbin, a major city that shut off running water to 3.8 million people for five days because of the spill, the government is borrowing $79 million to pay for recovery efforts, a news report said, giving the first indication of the disaster's economic impact.

The water shutdown in Harbin forced factories to close and disrupted business at hotels, restaurants and other companies. The government has not said whether those businesses, as well as farmers, fishermen and others, might be able to seek compensation.

The city of Jiamusi opened a new water treatment facility Monday afternoon — several months early — to ensure water supplies while the stream of chemicals passes, the local newspaper Jiamusi Daily said.

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