Cadmium spill sees plants given marching orders

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2012, 12:00am


All heavy-metal smelting plants in Hechi, Guangxi province, will be relocated by 2015, a move that comes amid ongoing efforts to tackle a toxic cadmium spill that has threatened the drinking water of millions of people for weeks.

Liao Jincheng, director of Hechi's Development and Reform Commission, said all the companies should be moved to an industrial park far from the city, and those that refused to move would be closed this year.

The cadmium spill was first detected in the Longjiang River on January 15 in Hechi and later spread to the downstream sections of the Liujiang, a tributary of the Pearl River. The slick has threatened water supplies in Liuzhou, the second-largest city in Guangxi, with more than 3.5 million residents. Cadmium is used in batteries and can cause kidney problems and cancer.

The spill has killed fish and triggered panic-buying of bottled water. Authorities have deployed the army to dump bags of chemical neutraliser into treatment tanks at a hydropower station near Liuzhou to stop the toxic slick. As of Saturday, the cadmium concentration at the station had dropped to a controllable level, and tap water reportedly had been brought within safe drinking levels, the agency said.

Investigations have identified two factories - one producing a dye product called lithopone without a licence and the other a metallurgical chemical plant - as being responsible for the incident. Authorities said they had illegally discharged highly contaminated sewage.

'It is difficult to prevent companies from illegally discharging pollutants if the smelters are small and can't be managed in a centralised way,' Liao was quoted by the Chinese News Service as saying. 'So the Hechi government will shut down the small ones and move the big ones to an industrial park. It will also lower the companies' cost of treating pollution.'

Liao said the city had 72 large, heavy-metal smelters and 82 small ones.

Heavy-metal-related businesses are among the pillar industries of Hechi and account for 12 per cent of the city's economy, according to the report.

Residents in Yizhou, which is under Hechi's jurisdiction, are still being warned not to drink water directly from the Longjiang. One resident said she had been using bottled water for two weeks as residents feared tap water was too polluted.