The river Amur where Chinese-Russian border runs through the centre of the river. The toxic slick of is slowly approaching large Russian cities via the frozen river.
Millions of Chinese people who rely on the Songhua for their
drinkingwater have had to rely on bottled water and emergency
supplies instead.Our activists are keeping a close eye on Russia's
Emergency Ministry,Emercom, to make sure that sampling and public
information are accurateand that no expense is spared in protecting
human health and theenvironment.
Neither Russia nor China enjoy much of a reputation for openness
whenit comes to industrial disasters. The recent description of the
initialcover-up by Zhang Zuoji, Governor of Heilonggjiang Provence
as a"benevolent lie" has done little to help.
But will it be any different in the Russian Federation?
Greenpeace'sman on the ground, Alexi, says: "On paper and in their
reports they arepretty much set up to meet the slick. However, we
in the area say thatthey are under-staffed. The amount of activated
carbon -- which can beused to filter benzene from the water -- is
insufficient. Not tomention that the way they take samples -- using
a helicopter and abucket on a rope -- raises a lot of
"There are still many unknown facts, like exactly how much
benzene andother toxic substances really spilled into the Songhau;
or how thefreezing temperatures and ice-cover on the rivers will
effect theslick; or whether or not it will still be a slick or a
more dispersedplume. But Emercom and local scientists, probably
also to avoidpanic, are saying that the slick will not reach Russia
Both Emercom and some local scientists believe, or hope, that
thelarger part of the slick will turn into the Chinese side of the
river,but not all of it, so they are preparing some safety
The city of Khabarovsk on the Amur has a population of some
800,000people. Other large river cities include Amursk (about
70,000 people)and Komsomolsk-on-Amur (up to 300,000 people). There
are also manyvillages and small towns along the river. To a various
extent anddepending on the response of the Russian authorities and
influence oficing the slick may affect some 1,200,000 or so
But the myths and rumours are already starting to build around
thenearly invisible benzene's ghostly trip down river. At the
moment it isbelieved to be passing the Chinese city of Jiamusi, a
city about twothirds of the way to the Russian border from Harbin,
the first Chinesecity to have its water supply cut.
According to Alexi, there is a dam near Khabarovsk which dampens
waterflow. So in order to channel the polluted water away from
theKhabarovsk water supply inlets, the authorities are
considering blowing up the 400-million rouble (12-million euro)
Already, on November 25th the Khabarovsk authorities turned off
the tapwater because it was rumoured a day earlier they found
benzene in Amur.Later the authorities tried to calm the population
down explaining theturn-off was for technical reasons only.
Rumours also abound that another pollutant heptyl had been found
in thewater. "This news was made hotter by the Emercom spokesman
who saidthat this information was closed" says Alexi. "Oleg Mitvol,
from theGovernment, who was there at the time demonstratively drank
some tapwater to show that it is safe. But, even that backfired,
people startedsaying that he had eaten lots of adsorbents
beforehand and that he didthis because he had gotten a phone call
from Moscow telling him to stopany panic even at the price of his
So added to certain danger of benzene we can add the legacy of
years ofmisinformation and no information, a heady cocktail of
Governmentincompetence and intransigence.
We'll do our best to bear witness and continue to apply pressure
forfull monitoring over the next few months and well into the
spring thaw,but also to promote honesty and independence in the
battle to provide awary public with information that they can have
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