Chinese city rushes new water plant into operation

A city of 480,000 people in China's northeast rushed a new water plant into operation as a toxic spill on a nearby river arrived Tuesday and the city was forced to shut down another water facility for fear of contamination, the local government said.

Meanwhile, a major city upstream that shut off running water to 3.8 million people because of the spill from a chemical plant explosion is borrowing 640 million yuan (US$79 million; Ђ68 million) to pay for recovery efforts, a news report said, giving the first indication of the disaster's economic impact.

The spill of cancer-causing benzene into the Songhua River has disrupted drinking water supplies to millions of people in China, and a Russian city downstream was bracing for the arrival of the chemical early next week.

Tests showed that the benzene reached the city of Jiamusi early Tuesday, said a man with the publicity department of the Heilongjiang Provincial Environmental Protection Office who would only give his surname, Wu.

The city opened a new water treatment facility Monday afternoon, several months early, to ensure water supplies while the stream of chemicals passes, the local communist party newspaper Jiamusi Daily said.

On Friday, Jiamusi city government shut down its No. 7 Water Plant, which is near the river, in order to avoid contamination, saying the plant draws on ground water wells but is located near the river.

The new Jiangbei Water Source, built at a cost of 230 million yuan (US$28 million; Ђ24 million), is capable of producing 100 million liters (26 million gallons) of water per day, the Jiamusi Daily said.

The city government has ordered several thousand villagers living near the Songhua to stop using shallow ground water wells, but says running water to the rest of the city should continue functioning normally and there were no plans to close schools, AP reports.

A. A.

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