Calls for governor Li Xiaopeng to resign after second Shanxi disaster cover-up

Officials accused of hiding a second disaster in a fortnight, and once again fingers are pointed at son of former premier Li Peng

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:07pm

The Shanxi government has come under fire for covering up another industrial disaster - this time a toxic chemical spill that has contaminated drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents in Hebei.

The provincial government led by acting governor Li Xiaopeng, the son of former hardline premier Li Peng, took five days to issue a public warning after 9 tonnes of aniline entered the Zhuozhang River last Monday, state media reported.

The spill at the Changzhi city chemical plant owned by Tianji Coal Chemical Industry was the second incident in two weeks that Li's administration has been accused of suppressing.

Shanxi officials were criticised for waiting eight days to confirm a Christmas Day explosion that killed at least eight workers at a tunnel construction site in Linfen. The government only confirmed the blast after a torrent of online criticism.

Similarly, authorities did not report the chemical spill until Saturday, after Handan city, downstream in Hebei, suspended water supplies, triggering a wave of panic buying of bottled water, state media said.

Aniline, a poisonous benzene derivative, is considered likely to be a carcinogen if consumed in large amounts.

Wang Yiping , a propaganda official with the Changzhi government, denied there had been a cover-up.

"It is not true that we delayed issuing a warning for five days," Wang said, according to China News Service.

"It is not necessary to report to any body, including the provincial government, as long as the pollutants have not yet spread to regions out of our jurisdiction."

The plant's general manager, deputy manager and two other officials were sacked yesterday, Xinhua reported.

Xinhua reported that river water samples taken near the Shanxi and Hebei borders were found to have nearly 720 times the accepted level of aniline.

Officials in Handan reported a large number of dead fish on the upper reaches of the river on Friday evening, the official news agency said. Anyang city, in Henan also warned the public to stop using water from the Yuecheng Reservoir and the Hongqiqu and Anyang rivers after detecting excess chemicals.

An initial investigation blamed the leak on a loose drainage valve in the Tianji chemical plant, Xinhua said. The Changzhi government said it had contained 30 additional tonnes of spilled aniline in an unused reservoir.

Internet users again railed against the Shanxi government, and called on Li to step down. He is expected to be appointed governor soon by the rubber-stamp provincial people's congress.

"It is criminal that officials covered up the matter for five days. People downstream were not warned," weibo user "Xuemanzhi" wrote yesterday.