Chemical spill rumours spark water panic

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2012, 12:00am

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Rumours that a chemical tanker sank in the Yangtze River sparked a wave of panic buying of bottled water in a series of cities in Jiangsu province, mainland media reported.

The first reports of panic-buying came on Saturday when residents of Zhenjiang, 70 kilometres east of Nanjing, cleared supermarket shelves of bottled water, the Beijing Times reported.

Locals complained the city's tap water had began to give off a foul smell the previous afternoon, with some alleging it had caused them to 'vomit after drinking a mouthful', the paper said.

Environmental officials in Zhenjiang told the paper they had found no traces of chemical leaks affecting the city's water supply. Water officials, meanwhile, blamed the odour on 'extra chlorine' held in the water due to the cold weather which was being released as it warmed up in people's' homes.

However, concerns about water quality - coming shortly after the release of cadmium in Guangxi province late last month - continued to spread downriver.

Yesterday, rumours circulated online that a cargo vessel had gone down near Jiangyin, roughly 100 kilometres downstream from Zhenjiang, on Sunday, releasing a chemical spill.

Microblog users posted photographs they said were of residents in Nantong - the next major city downriver - queuing at supermarkets with shopping trolleys piled high with bottles of water.

The Jiangyin Public Security Bureau posted a message on its Sina Weibo account denying a ship had sunk. 'This information is purely rumour. Police authorities are currently searching for the source of this information,' the bureau said.

Nantong Television also relayed on its website a statement from the city's environmental protection officials aimed at reassuring residents.

'This city's urban drinking water currently meets guidelines, and water produced by the waterworks is safe,' the statement said, adding that officials would continue to monitor the situation for at least 24 hours.

However, the sinking was initially reported by some reliable media outlets. The Shanghai Daily briefly carried a report on its website yesterday with the headline 'City on alert after chemical ship sinks in Yangtze'.