China and Russia Sign River Monitoring Pact
BEIJING, China, February 21, 2006 (ENS) - China and Russia today signed a formal agreement to jointly monitor cross-border rivers to ensure water quality. The pact follows a chemical spill into the Songhua River last November 13 that polluted the cross-border waterway.
Some 100 metric tons of toxic nitrobenzene entered the river after an explosion at a petrochemical plant. Five people were killed in the incident, which took place in Jilin province in the northeastern China. The chemicals entered the Amur River in the Russian Far East on December 25.
To prevent recurrence of such accidents, experts from the two countries will regularly exchange information and work together, Chinese and Russian officials said.
The water bodies under joint surveillance include the Heilong, Wusuli, Erguna and Suifen rivers and Xingkai Lake, according to a report by the official state news agency Xinhua. The Songhua River is the Heilong's largest tributary.
"The agreement marks a substantive step in environmental protection co-operation between China and Russia," said Zhou Shengxian, minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
Signing the agreement Monday in Beijing, Zhou and Yuri Trutnev, Russian minister of natural resources, also agreed to work out plans to handle emergencies.
Trutnev praised the Chinese government for its quick response in handling the pollution in Songhua River and said Beijing should consider setting up a mechanism to punish enterprises responsible for environmental crises.
"I hope monitoring cross-border rivers is just a beginning of the two countries' co-operation on environmental protection," Zhou said. "China and Russia need to jointly develop comprehensive environmental protection."
Today's agreement originated in December when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao consented to jointly tackle the Songhua River chemical spill. Meeting on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations forum in Kuala Lumpur on December 13, the two leaders said they would work more closely to protect the environment in the future.
This month more toxic spills into China's rivers have threatened drinking water quality.
On Friday, the general manager of a chemical firm accused of releasing 2,000 tons of alkaline wastewater into a northwest China river was fired.
The spill occurred at the Jintai Chlorine and Alkaline Chemical Company February 4 when three processing tanks collapsed, discharging the waste into the Wuding River, which flows into China's second longest river, the Huang He, or Yellow River.
The Yulin City Environmental Protection Bureau said the chemical firm was ordered to suspend operation and take measures to renovate the wastewater discharge system within a scheduled time limit.
Several processing tanks had shown signs of leakage 10 days before to the incident, but the company failed to report it to local environmental protection officials, the bureau said.
Last week, a chemical spill from a power plant on the upper Yuexi River in the southwestern province of Sichuan contaminated a 100 kilometer (60 mile) stretch of the river around the city of Yibin.
The power plant discharged fluoride, nitrogen and phenol that affected drinking water for the 20,000 residents of Guanyin town, the official China Daily newspaper reported. Water was trucked to thirsty residents, but supplies fell short of the demand.
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