The Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the government will try its utmost to minimize the impact of the contamination of northeast China's Songhua River on neighboring parts of Russia, including intensifying monitoring and water quality control measures.
"China is very concerned about the possible hazards to Russia and has informed its neighbor several times of the pollution," ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao said at a press conference. "Both have pledged to cooperate closely to handle the pollution."
At another press conference the same day, a senior State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) official said China will keep informing the Russian side of what it has learnt from monitoring the situation.
"The two sides are making specific arrangements for opening a hotline for the matter," said Zhang Lijun, deputy director of the SEPA.
He said the polluted water, which reached Heilongjiang's provincial capital Harbin on Thursday morning, is expected to flow into the Heilongjiang River (called the Amur River in Russia) on the Sino-Russian border in around 14 days judging from the current speed of flow.
Experts estimate that around 100 tons of pollutants containing benzene leaked into the river after the November 13 explosion at an upstream chemical plant run by China National Petroleum Corp's Jilin Petrochemical Company.
Cities along the river have been forced to suspend use of the river's water for various periods. Harbin, a city of more than 3 million residents, stopped drawing water from it for four days on Wednesday.
Zhang said that as the polluted water flows downstream, the density of pollutants has markedly decreased.
The pollutants, stretching over an area around 80 kilometers long, will be further diluted after they pass Harbin in around 40 hours as several major tributaries are to join the Songhua River, according to Zhang.
The amount of nitrobenzene in the water exceeded the national limit 29.9 times, and that of benzene 2.6 times when it passed Zhaoyuan between November 20 and 22. These figures have already fallen to about 10.7 and 0.08 times the national limits respectively, he said.
Measures already taken by local governments include blocking the entry of pollutants, discharging water from two reservoirs to dilute them, organizing experts to study control measures, and enhancing monitoring work, part of the environmental emergency response mechanism activated shortly after the explosion.
Premier Wen Jiabao ordered the environmental department and regional governments to take effective measures to guarantee the safety of potable water, and the State Council dispatched an expert group, headed by director of the National Bureau of Production Safety Supervision and Administration Li Yizhong, to Harbin to handle the situation.
Water supplies and active carbon used to purify water are being shipped to the affected areas.
A SEPA official said that no one has been harmed because the public was informed in a timely fashion.
(Xinhua News Agency November 25, 2005)