Sulfuric acid leaked into the water supply from a chemical factory in central China, poisoning at least 26 villagers who have been admitted to hospital with nausea and swollen faces, authorities said Thursday.
An underground pipe broke at the factory - part of the Xiaoping coal mine complex in Banqiao town in Hunan province’s Chenxi county Ñ causing the chemical leak into groundwater supplies, said Yang Changyou of the Chenxi information office.
“There are 26 people seriously poisoned and hospitalized, and more than 200 villagers are receiving free medical checkups, but no one died in the accident,” Yang said.
The government was providing free bottled water and extra water supplies from four fire engines, he said, adding that authorities were trying to track and contain the leak.
Some of the most polluted cities in the world are in China, where many rivers and lakes are toxic after decades of breakneck industrial and economic growth. The State Environmental Protection Administration says about a quarter of all the water in China’s seven main river systems is too toxic for human contact.
A man surnamed He who answered the phone at the Chenxi county government office confirmed the leak, but refused to provide any more details including his full name.
A man who answered a call to the Chenxi County People’s Hospital said the hospital Òwas packed with poisoned villagers, most of them are suffering vomiting, swollen faces and other symptoms.Ó He then hung up saying he was “too busy”. ”He didn’t give his name.
No phone numbers for the factory were listed in the phone directory and it could not be immediately reached. It was not clear if the factory and mine are private or state owned.
The Beijing News said the number of poisoning cases could reach 1,000, citing the hospital and relatives of those sickened by the polluted water. That estimate could not be immediately confirmed.
The local environment protection bureau launched an investigation into possible water supply pollution after a retired coal miner in the area complained his drinking water had turned yellow, the paper said.
The investigation found that the underground water near the factory was a constant grade III, meaning it was not harmful and safe to drink. Ten days later, villagers living near the factory fell sick and were admitted to a hospital where they were treated for colds and leukemia, the newspaper said.
The government then launched a second investigation that found arsenic and tin and other metals in the water supply, it said.
Chinese regulators have difficulty enforcing environmental rules because local leaders are reluctant to take steps that might hurt industry or reduce jobs and tax revenues. Local environmental protection bureaus often report to their local governments.
China’s priority is developing the economy, the recent rapid growth of which has lifted millions out of poverty. Nevertheless, Beijing has started to show greater willingness to clean up the environment after a series of high-profile cases.
A chemical plant spewed tons of toxic nitrobenzene and other chemicals into northern China’s Songhua River in 2005, forcing authorities to temporarily halt supplies of running water to millions of people.
Last year a lead-zinc spill in a river in the same province forced a one-day cut in water supplies to more than 200,000 people. Also, blue-green algae polluted eastern China’s Lake Taihu, which provides drinking water for millions. (AP)
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