09/11/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Hunan: arsenic in river poisons water for 80,000 people

A chemical industry illegally dumped the poison in Xinqiang River. There are no reports of victims yet. Since November, the country has recorded 130 serious cases of water pollution.

Yueyang (AsiaNews/SCMP) – A chemical plant has discharged arsenide into a river in Hunan, poisoning the drinking water of more than 80,000 people. But local health authorities said that as of yesterday there were no reports of people falling ill as a result of the water pollution.

Xinhua said the environmental authorities of Yueyang County discovered the arsenic spill into Xinqiang River on 8 September during a routine check. Water analyzed revealed arsenide levels to be 10 times the normal standard.

The poisonous fluid reached Dongting lake, home to endangered fish such as the Chinese sturgeon and baiji, a type of dolphin. But the authority said the "animals would be only slightly affected".

Arsenide poisoning can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pains and convulsions. It can also lead to coma and death.

The incident is the latest in a series of serious cases of pollution caused by industries. They come as Beijing launches a new campaign to crack down on those companies that illegally dump toxic waste and corrupt officials who turn a blind eye to environmental degradation in their areas.

Recently, pollution from a lead smelter in Gansu province was found to have poisoned more than 360 people, including about 150 children. Residents of the affected village, which is in Hui County, accused the government of not wanting to cover their medical bills.

In Hunan, Peng Xiangdong, deputy director of Yueyang county's Environmental Protection Bureau, said the authorities had closed a small chemical plant in Linxiang city after finding it was polluting a local river.

Pan Yue, deputy head of the State Environmental Protection Administration, said China had recorded more than 130 water pollution cases since the massive pollution of Songhua River in November. Pan said factories were mostly to blame.

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