The Amur river: new disaster, old source…
Thousands of barrels filled with chemicals of the 1-2 level of severity are drifting along the Songhua river – the tributary of the Amur river. Dalhydromet service immediately sent an official request to the Government of China and received the quick response. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Emergency Investigation Center of the Peoples’ Republic of China confirmed, that on 28July, 2010, due to a sudden rainfall in Yongji county of Jilin province, the originated mountain flood destroyed the storehouses of the biochemical company “Xinyajiang” and Jilin corporation “Zhungxin” ltd. As a result, about 4000 empty barrels and about 3000 barrels with chemicals (about 500 tons!!!) were washed away into the Wende river, the tributary of Songhua river. The chemicals (hexamethyldisilazane and trimethylchlorosilane) are the substances which require using gloves, respirator and safety glasses while working with, and in case of the skin contact, swallowing or inhaling vapours of these substances, one should see a doctor. However, Chinese specialists officially insist that in case of interaction of these chemicals with water, they fall into non toxic components.
According to the announcement of the administration of Victor Ishaev, the authorized representative of the President of Russian Federation in the Far Eastern region, he took the situation under his personal control. He regularly receives the reports of the regional Departments of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Nature Resources and Environmental Control and hydro meteorological service, which contact their colleagues from China. The Government of Khabarovsky province and the specialists of the Institute for Water and Environmental Problems of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Science are actively involved in the situation analysis and ready to conduct the monitoring of the water quality.
The case is being controlled by the State Council of China. The deputy minister of nature protection Zhang Lijun has left to visit the site. Taking recover measures is headed by the first deputy Chairman of the Peoples’ Government of Jilin province and the Mayor of Jilin city. Active search and fish out of the barrels is being done (over 400 barrels already collected), 11 barrier lines are fixed, 7 monitoring stations equipped. However, downstream in Harbin city people stock up with water! Anyway, the Songhua river will deliver its dangerous cargo to the Amur no sooner than in 10-15 days.
WWF specialists consider this situation as a non-random case. Indeed, five years ago, on 13 November, 2005, the similar large ecological catastrophe happened on Sunghua river, when after the leakage of poisonous substances from the Chinese chemical plant more than 100 tones of benzol spilled into the river. That time the Government of Russian Federation and the Government of China signed the agreement on sustainable use and protection of transboundary waters (29January, 2008) and the Memorandum “On establishment the mechanism of reporting and information exchange in case of environmental emergency situations in transboundary areas”. (12 November, 2008). A great deal of efforts were taken over these years – the joint monitoring of water quality was organized, the massive construction of waste treatment facilities in the large cities in China was launched, with the increasing the water content of Amur, the general level of pollution has reduced.
“The information exchange mechanism has came into action, but the reasons of catastrophes are not eliminated, - comments Yury Darman, the head of WWF-Russia Amur branch, PhD. – Hazardous factories should not be located in the areas of potential floods. Since 2000 we try to introduce a special regime of economic exploitation of the Amur flood-plain. Instead, the new Water Code has reduced water protection area of the great river to a strip 200 meters wide! It is useless trying to harness Amur with embankment and dams, it is necessary to regulate economic activities in its flood-plain considering potential floods and provide ecological security of any business operations”.