January 10, 2013

Not News: Chemical Spill in China Poisons Water Supply for Millions

In 2008, as reported by Tim Graham at NewsBusters at the time, Thomas Friedman at the New York Times wrote that America ought to become “China for a day,” so that Friedman’s dream, in Graham’s words “of a green revolution — all those allegedly planet-saving taxes and regulations and product bans — can be permanently enacted.”

The mainland’s totalitarian regime isn’t merely not “green” in any meaningful sense. It also is often remarkably unconcerned about the health and well-being of its subjects. For example, a recent chemical spillp poisoned the water of millions (that’s right, millions), and the government didn’t bother telling anyone about it for almost a week. The story has received almost zero attention in the U.S. press. Excerpts from a January 7 story at the UK’s Financial Times follow the jump (bolds are mine):

China chemical spill poisons water

A toxic chemical spill in the heart of China’s coal country has poisoned drinking water for millions and sparked a public outcry across the country after local government officials took almost a week to reveal the accident.

The provincial government led by acting governor Li Xiaopeng, whose father was China’s premier at the time of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, took six days to issue a public warning after 9 tonnes of aniline entered the Zhuozhang River last Monday, state media reported.

Aniline “is toxic by inhalation of the vapour, ingestion, or percutaneous absorption.”

Continuing, this time with information about protests and the pollution of China’s water supply the U.S. press has virtually never gone to the trouble of telling us:

… Despite a rare apology from the mayor of Changzhi for failing to disclose the spill, public anger over the accident and cover-up reached a crescendo on Monday. One editorial in a state-run news service warned that water issues could easily escalate into a “flashpoint” for protest and dubbed the Changzhi spill “watergate”.

A series of high profile environmental protests in 2012 highlighted the willingness of people to take their grievances to the street, particularly for pollution-related issues. And the spill is the latest blow in China’s difficult battle against pollution and adds to mounting concern over the safety of China’s scarce water supplies. On a per-capita basis, China’s available water is just a quarter of the world average, and extensive pollution – with nearly half of the country’s rivers categorised as “very polluted” by the government – is a further threat to water supplies.

… The Changzhi spill happened at a fertiliser factory on December 31, but local authorities did not reveal the accident for six days. A ruptured pipe accidentally released nearly 40 tonnes of aniline, a carcinogenic chemical that can cause damage to human organs if consumed. The amount of aniline released into the river is enough to contaminate a body of water the size of 3,600 Olympic swimming pools, based on China’s standards for river water.

The spill was disclosed only after the toxic chemicals had already contaminated a large reservoir downstream that serves as a water source for two cities with a combined population of 3m (i.e., millions — Ed.).

The BP oil spill in 2010 was news around the world for weeks. But a search at the Associated Press’s national site on “china spill” (not in quotes) returned no results (“china chemical” also returned nothing relevant). The same search at Google News (not in quotes, sorted by date) returned only nine. Only one, a blog post at the Wall Street Journal, is from a U.S. establishment media source (“china chemical” returned 30, with very few U.S.-based stories).

And of course, no comment from Thomas Friedman.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


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