China plagued by spills

As if dealing with the fallout from the Songhua benzene spill were not enough, China has had to cope with a wave of serious pollution incidents this week.

An explosion on an oil tanker moored in the riverside city of Changsha, Hunan Province, killed two workers and started a blaze on the ship that lasted an hour.

The accident on the ship, which was unloading 500 tons of petrol at the time of the blast, was believed to have been caused by poorly trained staff not using their equipment as it was designed to be used.

Worse was to come in Shanghai, where a tanker transporting sulphuric acid was hit by a container truck, spilling the acid into a local watercourse.

City officials said the affected stream and pond were not linked to public water supplies and the incident posed no threat to residents.

Environmental officers dammed the pond before dumping eight tons of caustic soda into it in an attempt to neutralise the acid.

Local people told state news agency Xinhua the incident had caused little inconvenience as tap water had been unaffected.

Meanwhile in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region suffered the worst of the week’s spills when a tanker carrying 18 tons of toxin yellow phosphorous burst into flames after rolling during a road accident.

The fire in the city of Hechi created an acidic mist covering more than 15 square kilometres.

The city is surrounded by mountains and the smog was trapped in the natural basin for many hours and despite residents taking precautions such as closing windows and staying indoors, many reported feeling nauseous from the toxic fumes.

The seemingly ceaseless torrent of industrial accidents in China has been seen as some analysts as the price of the nation’s dizzying economic boom.

Despite indications from leaders that China plans to consider sustainability as it develops its manufacturing base, the headlines have told a different story.

In an atmosphere where breakneck development is promoted as of utmost importance, health and safety seems to be coming second place, while environmental protection is lagging even further down the agenda.

By Sam Bond

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