Feb 14, 2012 06:09 PM

Lasting Scars on Longjiang River


It was already too little, too late with a massive fish kill and a crazed bottled water-run. By the afternoon of February 1, two weeks after a toxic disaster that continues to threaten the drinking water supplies of locals, He Xinxing, mayor of the Hechi Prefecture in Guangxi Province gave an unmoving apology to the public, admitting the government's responsibility – without giving any concrete action to prevent these disasters.

He said local authorities were "very guilty" and expressed "deep remorse" for a cadmium pollution incident on the Longjiang River. But beyond this, there was no mention of why the deadly spill occurred, despite so many overtures by local authorities to improve environmental accident responses.

Half a month earlier, some 20 tons of the toxic heavy metal cadmium entered the Longjiang from the Hechi urban area. For a time, the cadmium content of a portion of the Longjiang was 80 times permissible for public use. The pollution is certain to affect the downstream water supplies of people more than 300 kilometers of the Longjiang, according to the Guangxi emergency response team. A number of experts dealing with the incident say that failed disclosure was the worst of the violations – and one that has stands as part of a pattern in heavy metal pollution accidents.

Exposure to high levels cadmium is widely recognized to cause cancer in humans and animals.

On February 1, Hechi Deputy Party Committee Secretary Qin Bin said to local media that two companies are suspected of illegally handling sewage, but additional polluters cannot be ruled out. At press time, the local government had still not determined whether the two companies were the true sources of the cadmium spill.

The first suspected company was Guangxi Golden River Mining Company. The reason for suspecting the company was mainly a slag field that did not meet environmental standards. Waste liquid containing cadmium may have flowed into the Longjiang through a cave or underground river.

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