Authorities said chemical leak in Quangang a production safety accident, vow thorough probe amid public panic, outrage

By Li Ruohan and Zhao Yusha Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/9 22:03:40

Authorities said the chemical leak in Quangang, East China's Fujian Province, which sickened 52 residents, was a "production safety accident," vowing a thorough investigation amid public anxiety over possible damage to the environment and their health after some 7 tons of C9 aromatics spilled last weekend.

The leak took place at 1:13 am on Sunday when the tube connecting a vessel and the wharf in Quangang broke, leaking 6.97 tons of C9 aromatics in the water.

Preliminary investigation shows that the leak was a safety production accident. Local authorities are looking into the cause and will seriously hold those responsible for the accident accountable, said a statement released by the Public Security Bureau of Quangang on Friday.

The statement said constant monitoring of water, air and aquatic products will be conducted, as well as the condition of local residents' health. Local authorities also vowed to release information on time.

As of Thursday afternoon, 400 ships and over 2,500 personnel were sent to clean the oil stains, the statement said. "Oil stains floating in the affected waters have been cleaned and the work is ongoing for other residue," it said.

By 5pm Thursday, the Quangang district hospital had received 52 patients who might have been exposed to the chemical. Ten people have been hospitalized, including one person who nearly drowned in the polluted water and was later taken into intensive care, the local government said on Friday.

Repeated phone calls to the hospital went unanswered on Friday.

C9 is a type of aromatic hydrocarbon resin chemically manufactured from oil. It  is toxic to humans. C9 could irritate the eyes, nose and lungs and cause headaches and dizziness, Science and Technology Daily reported. Eating marine products contaminated by C9 face the risk of cancer, said the report, citing experts.

Panic and concern

Though government statements stressed that the air, water and food are "safe" after constant monitoring, local residents reached by the Global Times say they are still worried and desperate.

"Today, the smell was not as strong because of the wind, but I still feel very uncomfortable in my nose and head after smelling the odor for a few days," a local resident who lives 12 kilometers from the leak, told the Global Times on Friday.

"Because much of our food comes from the ocean, we are concerned about the C9's impact on our health, especially on the babies," said the resident who requested anonymity. "I feel desperate and might leave my hometown," he said.

Many corroded foam boards continue to float in the waters, and the fishermen are suffering huge financial losses, a resident of Xiaocuo, a village in Quangang, told the Global Times on Friday.

"We are so concerned that we may not be able to live in Xiaocuo with the contaminated sea products and the waters," said the resident who identified himself as Ning Meng.

"I don't know when the nightmare will end and we hope the government will not cover up the information," Ning said.

The oil spill has triggered wide attention across China. The hashtag "Quangang" has attracted over 220 million page views on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

The local government's inaccurate and belated information releases also sparked public outrage.

On Sunday, environmental authorities in Quangang released a statement saying that the oil stain clean-up was "basically finished" and that the air is "safe."

However, posts and photos circulated on social media by users claiming to be local residents showed a different picture, which triggered doubts and anger over the local authority's credibility.

The Quangang government said in separate statements that from Monday to Wednesday, the air quality was "safe and improving."

However, the People's Daily reported that four days after the leak, a strong odor that brought chest and throat discomfort remains.

Not until Friday did an official statement from Fujian's environment department begin to mention "water quality" without citing any specific data, and not until Wednesday that Quangang's publicity department started releasing information about the quality of aquatic products, according to an article published by Xiakedao, a WeChat account affiliated with the People's Daily, on Friday.

No official statistics have been released on financial losses to fishermen, one of the most affected groups of the chemical leak.

The oil spill is a lesson in developing a long-term and effective mechanism for environment monitoring, work safety and release of information, and how the government could improve, instead of losing its credibility, said the Xiakedao article.

Newspaper headline: C9 leak a ‘safety accident’

Posted in: SOCIETY

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