CHINA – Faulty waste pipes from a Chinese aluminium packaging products plant resulted in a major chemical spill in the largest river in Fujian province.
Greasy dirt emulsion – a waste liquid from Chinalco Ruimin Co’s production of its major products, aluminium sheet and strip, for use for beverage cans and medical packaging foil – spilled into the Minjiang River in Fuzhou last week.
According to a company statement, the chemicals “unexpectedly” leaked from pipes that channel the waste to an underground pool on the morning of 19 December due to a glitch at its recycling facility. About 200 litres of the emulsion poured onto the ground and then into the rainwater pipe that is linked to the sewage system, flowing into the river from there.
Local environmental administrators estimate two kilometres of the lower reaches of the river were polluted, with the emulsion floating on the water surface like an oil spill.
While intense cleaning efforts cleared up most of the spill visible on the water surface after four days, local media reports say small oil seepages are still being cleaned from the water near the riverbank. Black oil stains remain on the stones along the river’s edge, near where white egrets can occasionally be spotted.
"We are racing against time for a remedy," said Xie Hanqing, an employee of the company in charge of the on-site cleanup.
According to Xie, the company sealed the source of the pollutant immediately after the accident occurred and appointed workers to monitor chemical spills by the river around the clock.
A team of more than 20 workers and three boats threw oil-absorbing sheets into the water to soak up the floating dirt, and three floating wooden barriers were installed in front of the sewage outlet to block the emulsion from pouring into the sea.
Xie said there was no more leakage from the factory, but the ebbing tide kept sweeping away the dirt left on the walls of the sewage pipe, making oil seepages offshore.
Chinalco Ruimin has come under fire from Mawei district’s environmental protection bureau director Zhu Hui, who accused the company for not reporting the accident immediately to local environmental protection authorities which only received the news from the public a day after the spill occurred.
According to Zhu, daily water quality tests indicated that pollution levels exceeded standards at the start of the accident, but gradually eased and will not endanger aquatic animals.
This though, has not assured residents, who are now questioning Chinalco Rumin’s credibility and its previous claims that it had “zero discharge” of wastewater because of its US$3 million (RMB20 million) investment in waste treatment facilities.
Local media quoted one resident who claimed to have seen oil spills on the water surface from time to time after the factory commenced production in September.