City in southern China shut down running water for eight hours after toxic spill

A city in southern China shut down running water for eight hours after a smelter dumped chemicals in a river, residents said Wednesday, a month after a toxic spill in a northeastern river disrupted water supplies to millions. The twin disasters highlighted China's chronic environmental problems and the precarious state of its scarce water supplies. Running water in Shaoguan, north of Hong Kong in Guangdong province, was shut off Tuesday from about 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m., according to employees of three hotels in the city's downtown district.

"Today, everything is back to normal," said a woman who answered the phone at the city's Hotel de Royce. She would give only her surname, Li. The interruption came after the government said a smelter in Shaoguan had dumped toxic chemicals into the Beijiang River, causing levels of the heavy metal cadmium to jump to 10 times acceptable levels.

It wasn't clear how many people were affected in Shaoguan, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Hong Kong. The city has about 520,000 people in its urban center.

Officials who answered the phone at the Shaoguan city government and water company and refused to give their names denied there was any disruption of water supplies.

In Yingde, a city about 90 kilometers (50 miles) downstream from Shaoguan, the official Xinhua News Agency said water to 100,000 urban residents might be halted.

But officials contacted at the Yingde city government, water company and environment bureau said supplies were normal.

Officials in Yingde were dumping water from a suburban reservoir into the river to dilute the toxins and were building a pipe from the reservoir to bring clean water into the city, Xinhua said. China has suffered a string of such disasters, often blamed on lack of required safety equipment or officials' refusal to enforce environmental rules that might hurt local businesses, reports the AP. I.L.

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