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According to state-owned news agency Xinhua, 60 tons of coal tar was spilled by an overturned lorry in northern China on Friday, contaminating the water supply of 50,000 people and threatening to pollute a reservoir that supplies millions more.

Efforts to contain the spill in Shanxi province were delayed after the driver tried to cover up the accident but environmental protection authorities are now racing against time, building a series of dams and booms to stop the slick reaching the Wangkuai reservoir 70km downstream.

Sam Bond

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