China chemical spill cuts off water supply, shuts schools


Thousands of people in eastern China are without tap water after a spill from a factory may have dumped toxic chemicals into a river, state media said on Wednesday.

The spill comes just a week after the Environment Ministry said one in six major Chinese rivers are so polluted the water is unfit even for farmland.

The factory in the wealthy province of Zhejiang is suspected of contaminating the Tiaoxi River with chemicals including benzene and alkene, the official Xinhua news agency cited a government statement as saying.

“The pollution has disrupted the operation of two downstream water treatment facilities and affected tap water supplies in Hangzhou’s Yuhang district, which has a population of about 848,400,” Xinhua said.

Two water treatment plants in the towns of Pingyao and Liangzhu stopped working on Sunday because of the spill and have not restarted, the report added.

“The local government has sent water trucks to the towns to distribute drinking water. Schools and kindergartens in the towns have been closed since Tuesday,” Xinhua said.

More than 100 companies have halted operations because of water shortages, though a reservoir upstream has discharged more water in an attempt to dilute the pollution, it added.

River water tests showed no sign of pollution from the chemicals, Xinhua said, but added it was not known when the waterworks will resume operations.

Zhejiang was already suffering from an earlier chemical leak into another river over the weekend.

Residents in regional capital Hangzhou, a popular tourist city famed for its historic lake, had resorted to panic buying of bottled water following the two spills, Xinhua added.

Chemical spills into rivers are frequent in China, where three decades of rapid industrialisation has taken a heavy toll on the environment.

In 2005, an explosion at a PetroChina plant in northeastern Jilin province poured 100 tonnes of toxic benzene compounds into the Songhua River, leaving millions of people in the frigid downstream city of Harbin without drinking water for nearly a week.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills and Daniel Magnowski)

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