Harbin stops water supply on pollution alert

23 November 2005 03:35  [Source: ICIS news]

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--Water supply in Harbin city has been cut for four days as supplies could be contaminated with benzene following an explosion at Jilin Petrochemical’s aniline plant in northeast China, the Harbin government has announced.

It said in two announcements on Monday and Tuesday that water supply would be cut at 20:00 hours local time on Tuesday as it suspected that benzene could have contaminated the Songhua River, which supplies water to the city. The 1.85km river originates from Jilin province and flows to Harbin in Heilongjiang province. Harbin is located at the middle reaches of the river.

Benzene could have entered the water after a series of explosions that rocked Jilin Petrochemical’s aniline complex in Jilin city, Jilin province, on 13 November. Five people were killed in the accident. Investigations by Jilin's Bureau of Production Safety Supervision and Administration showed that they were caused by a plant operator who had neglected to shut a valve in time.

That caused temperature in a feedstock unit to rise rapidly causing an explosion, said the bureau. Adjacent equipment and storage tanks containing nitrobenzene, benzene and nitric acid feedstocks also caught fire and exploded.

Meanwhile, the 3.8m residents in Harbin city stocked up on water supplies and emptied shop shelves of every kind of beverage following the announcement.

An official from the Harbin health department said that the local environment authorities did not detect any abnormal signs in the Harbin section of the river. But he conceded that contamination could occur in the future as water flows from the upper reaches of Jilin province.

The cut in water supply did not have an impact on Harbin Petrochemical as it uses underground water, said a company source. A subsidiary of China National Blue Star Corp, the company produces 45,000 tonne/year of phenol/acetone in Harbin city.

Jake Zhang contributed to the story.

By: Florence Tan
+65 6780 4359

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