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January 12, 2013

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10 held in tainted water scare

TWO water plants in Shanghai's suburban Songjiang District shut off their supplies yesterday morning after a tanker dumped chemical waste into an upper stream of the Huangpu River.

Nearly 30,000 people, about 8,000 households, in the district's Maogang Town, now have to rely on bottled water and delivery by fire engines until the water plants can resume operations, the town government said.

About 400 enterprises and public institutions, including a school and a kindergarten, were closed as a result of the emergency.

Authorities said more than 10 people, including the tanker driver and managers of the Shanghai Xueyan Logistics Co, operators of the vehicle, are in police custody while an investigation continues.

Environmental experts are checking water samples from Damaogang Creek in Songjiang District and Jueshigang Creek in Jinshan District, two stretches of the same stream which flows into the Huangpu River. The water samples were being checked every hour.

The pollution had not spread to other waters by yesterday but Maogang and Hedong, which is a branch plant of Maogang, will not resume operations today, the town government said.

Residents in Zhujing Town in Jinshan and Maogang Town in Songjiang reported a strong smell about 7:40pm on Thursday, officials said. An investigation was launched and it was found that tons of chemicals, later identified as benzene compounds, including styrene, had been dumped into Jueshigang Creek. The driver was caught at the scene.

The waste flowed downstream to Damaogang Creek, the water source of the Maogang plant.

The density of styrene severely exceeded permitted levels, with the highest reading some 300 times the standard, officials said.

Styrene, a colorless oily liquid, is a hazardous chemical which can harm the digestive system and cause kidney and respiratory problems.

"I was choked by the strong smell during my sleep and jumped out of bed," a resident in Zhujing Town said.

The Shanghai Transport and Port Authority said they deployed eight patrol ships, three salvage ships and two pollution control ships to clean up the chemicals. Six oil fences, each 250 meters long, were set up and oil absorption felt and organic absorbents were used to clean the water.

"We got the emergency call at midnight and have been working non-stop," a pollution control worker surnamed Yao said. "The creek usually flows to the lower Huangpu River," he said, "but during a tide the water flows backwards to the upper Jueshigang Creek."

Thanks to the tide and workers' efforts, pollution did not spread as far as the Huangpu.

Each household in Maogang Town was given a 5-liter bottle of water by the government and there was no panic buying.

However, in Jinshan District, where supplies were not affected, many worried residents rushed to buy bottled water.

"I heard there was a ship sunk in the river and the tap water is polluted," a woman told Shanghai TV. Due to a lack of information, many residents were not aware of the actual situation, the program said.


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