07/28/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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Sichuan: govt admits river water contamination, causes panic in population

In Mianyang, a city of 300,000, thousands of people rushed to buy bottled water standing in line well into the night. Municipal authorities pledge to provide water for everyone, saying the crisis will be soon over. However, people do not trust them.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hundreds of thousands of residents in the southwestern city of Mianyang (Sichuan) cleared out stores and shopping malls of bottled water after the authorities announced on Tuesday that the water of the Fujiang River was not fit to drink because of a spill of industrial toxic residues. Long line-ups formed in front of stores during the day and overnight despite reassurances that the government would provide everyone with water.

The local government brought in 40 water tanks and 3,600 tonnes of safe water, urging the city’s 300,000 residents not to hoard the precious liquid and warning merchants not to take advantage of the situation to raise prices.

Residents did not heed the warning, concerned by the fact that the announcement had come five days after toxic residues were released by mistake into the river by the Xichuan Minjiang Electrolytic Manganese plant in Aba Prefecture.

Ma Daofu, head of the Mianyang Environmental Protection Bureau, said his agency monitored water quality after learning of the accident. It did not find excessive levels of ammonia, nitrogen and manganese in the Fujiang River until Monday afternoon.

He admits though that the authorities waited until levels of ammonia and nitrogen were down, whilst manganese was still high, 1.89 mg, way above the permitted level are 0.1mg. Even in the case of ammonia and nitrogen, the level was high, 3.349 mg per litre compared with a state-allowed level of 0.5 milligrams

Local sources said that as soon as the announcement was made, thousands of people ran to the nearest stores, finding long line-ups already. For experts, this is a sign that the public places little trust in what the government says.

The Fujiang River accounts for 70 per cent of the city’ drinking water. Other sources of drinking water were not contaminated.

High levels of manganese in water can cause diarrhoea and dizziness.

Local health authorities say that the river should be back to normal very soon.
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