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Toxins Flowing Through Harbin

The main body of pollutants in northeast China's Songhua River is flowing through Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province, the national environmental administration said in a bulletin released on Friday morning.

"At zero hour Friday, the density of nitrobenzene 16 kilometers upstream of Harbin's water intake reached a maximum of 0.5805 milligrams per liter, 33.15 times above the national limit," said the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) bulletin.

The density of nitrobenzene at Harbin's Sifangtai water intake at 6 AM had fallen to 30.1 times the national limit, according to the municipal environmental protection authority, due to continued sedimentation and dilution.

Harbin is China's northernmost metropolis, with a population of 9 million.

Zhang Lijun, SEPA vice minister, told a press conference in Beijing yesterday that Jilin Petrochemical Corporation, a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), "should be responsible" for the leak of benzene and its derivatives following an explosion at one of its chemical plants in neighboring Jilin Province on November 13. Five people were killed in the blast and about 70 injured.

CNPC's deputy general manager, Zeng Yukang, apologized to people living along for the Songhua River for the pollution caused by the blast, according to Harbin's city government on Thursday.

Zeng, also director of Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau, went to Harbin on Wednesday, heading a drilling crew that is to dig 100 deep groundwater wells there for universities, colleges and water and heat suppliers.

Jiao Zhengzhong, provincial vice-governor of Jilin, also expressed his apologies to the residents of Harbin and went there the same day to discuss ways to treat the pollution, bringing 71 tons of bottled water with him, according to Harbin's city government yesterday.

"We will work with the Heilongjiang provincial government to quickly investigate the incident," he said.

Shenyang, capital of the northeastern province of Liaoning, transported 1,000 tons of drinking water to help, according to its municipal government on Thursday.

A State Council work group is due to leave Beijing on Friday afternoon for Harbin to investigate the situation.

Nitrobenzene is toxic to humans and may also be carcinogenic.

(Xinhua News Agency November 25, 2005)

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