The people of China's Handan city have been drinking, bathing and washing in toxic water for five days.The city's main resource – the Zhanghe river – was contaminated by industrial pollutants from the neighboring Shanxi Province on December 31, 2012. However, the contamination was not reported by the local government until five days later, when Handan city’s water was cut off without warning on Jan 5, 2013.
The Shanxi government claims a tube rupture at a chemical plant in Changzhi city caused ‘aniline,’ a toxic chemical to leak into the upper reaches of the Zhanghe river.
According to the latest news [zh], the chemical leak comes from a state enterprise: Shanxi Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group, and the contamination has spread to Anyang city in China’s Henan province.
In response to a query regarding the delay in Changzhi reporting the accident, Changzhi’s news chief Wang YiPing said[zh]:
We report in accordance with the procedures, we didn’t delay the report for five days. As long as the pollution is within the Changzhi boundary, it’s not necessary to report to the provincial government, we can deal with it on our own, we only need to report to the provincial government if the pollution goes out of Changzhi city. I’m not sure about the details.
The local government’s censorship of the news and ignorance of their serious environmental violation have triggered widespread condemnation online. A search on Sina Weibo yields over 2,933,094 results[zh], making it the hottest topic on Jan 6. On one hand, netizens are angry about the repeated environmental incidents in China; on the other hand, they are furious about how local government has censored the news.
Columnist Lian Peng wrote:
As a the Handan local, I feel extremely angry. People’s lives are not taken seriously. Why did Shanxi report about the problem until five days’ later? Who is trying to conceal the news? Anyone who is responsible for the pollution and the suppression of the news should be held responsible for the accident. I have limited information about this, but still I would like to ask why is the chemical plant set near the river? Is there any strict supervision? Last word: we have not fully acknowledged the water resource issue, sooner or later, we will have to pay a painful price.
Any kind of policy is related to interests of different parties. The censorship of Shanxi accident has protected the officials who concealed the news and people who are responsible for the pollution, but it hurts all the people living on Zhanghe river at the cost of their health and lives.
Social media personality Xue Manzi urged for better environmental supervision:
Corporate environmental accidents come one after the other in China, but are rarely reported, this way of “maintaining stability” is taking people’s lives for granted! Such serious issue, when failed to be reported immediately, has hit millions of people without warning, this is crime! Pollution is a crime! Choosing to ignore pollution is the greatest crime! We must deal with environmental pollution for future generations!
Editor at ifeng news Meng Hui echoed:
Press freedom concerns thousands of lives.
A blogger based on Handan city wrote:
We've been drinking contaminated water for five days, it’s hard to imagine the consequences. Who will take responsibility for this? Who can afford to take responsibility? There is no other way, I suggest that everyone go pump their stomachs to clear it. However, we can do nothing to eliminate the hazards the pollution has brought upon us, we always live under the threat from the unknown truth, it’s nerve-racking!