China considering dam to shield Russian city from toxic spill

China is considering building a dam to reduce the impact of a river-borne toxic spill that is due to arrive in a Russian city early next week, a government newspaper said Thursday. The temporary dam would be built across a waterway linking the toxin-laden river with another river used by the Russian city of Khabarovsk for water supplies, the China Daily said, citing an unidentified Chinese water resources official.

The plan adds to increasingly ambitious Chinese efforts to contain the human, economic and diplomatic damage from a Nov. 13 chemical plant explosion that dumped 100 tons of benzene and other chemicals into the Songhua River in the country's northeast.

The spill disrupted water supplies to millions of people in China and strained relations with Moscow. The Songhua flows into the Heilong River, which merges with the Wusuli River at Khabarovsk to become the Amur.

The dam would be built on a waterway linking the Heilong with the Wusuli, which supplies water for homes and businesses in Khabarovsk, the China Daily said. The two rivers merge in Khabarovsk, but part of the city lies upstream on the Wusuli, known in Russian as the Ussuri. That spot was chosen because the water is only 90 centimeters (three feet) deep and moves slowly at this time of year, the newspaper said. It said Chinese experts arrived Tuesday in the northeastern city of Jiamusi to study a Russian proposal for the dam.

China has apologized to Russia and promised this week to work closely with Moscow to minimize the spill's impact. Beijing already has sent 150 tons of activated carbon for use in water filtration in Khabarovsk, a city of 580,000 people.

The Chinese government tried Wednesday to mollify anger at the disaster by promising severe punishment for anyone found responsible for the explosion or spill. The head of the country's industrial safety agency warned that anyone who tried to hide evidence would be punished. But the government didn't say whether it would target the biggest cause of public anger _ accusations that Communist Party officials tried to hide the spill.

Meanwhile, authorities were investigating the death of a Chinese deputy mayor who had told reporters that the chemical plant explosion in his city would cause no pollution.

Vice Mayor Wang Wei of Jilin, where the explosion occurred, was found dead at home Tuesday, the Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao and Hong Kong Cable TV reported. They said the 43-year-old Wang's cause of death was unknown.

"The exact reasons are unclear. The investigation has not reached a conclusion," a spokeswoman for the government of Jilin province, where Jilin is located, told Hong Kong Cable TV. Employees who answered phone calls to Jilin city government offices said they had no information.

Wang ran a team that evacuated residents after the Nov. 13 explosion, according to Ta Kung Pao. He told Chinese media at the time that there was no pollution from the explosion. The government didn't announce that the Songhua had been poisoned until 10 days later on Nov. 23, hours after the major city of Harbin was forced to shut down running water to 3.8 million people. During a visit to Harbin, Premier Wen Jiabao promised to investigate the disaster but didn't mention the failure to inform the public.

An environmental official has complained that by failing to report the spill promptly, local authorities wrecked China's best chance of minimizing the damage, the AP reports. The handling of the aftermath highlights the status enjoyed by party officials who often cannot be investigated or prosecuted without the party's permission. A.M.

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