Thirty four chemical plants in the coastal province of Jiangsu, China, have been closed down following alarming pollution of a major river. The last of the plants was demolished Friday.
The pollution issue came to light when it was found that a chemical plant in Yancheng city had illegally dumped 30 metric tons of phenol -- used in the production of resins, plastics and pharmaceuticals -- into the city's water source, the Xinyanggang River.
According to official Chinese media reports, Yancheng Biaoxin Chemical, the company behind the illegal waste disposal, produces ammonium chloride, hydrogen peroxide, and chloroetherketone. Its plants are located next to an intake pipe for the city's water supply.
The dumping by Biaoxin contaminated the city's water supply and deprived about 200,000 residents of drinking water for a day in February last.
Police have detained the legal representative and the manager of the responsible chemical plant, the Biaoxin Chemical Company.
Subsequently, in March, the mayor of Yancheng ordered the closure of the polluting chemical plants. Some of the plants will be compensated for their forced relocation, and those with outdated production facilities will be closed.
Seven officials, including two in charge of environmental protection, were removed from their posts or given administrative and disciplinary punishments.
Jiangsu, the capital of which is Nanjing, is a relatively affluent province by Chinese standards. Its comprehensive industrial base includes hundreds of chemical and pharmaceutical companies scattered throughout its territory.
The province has a history of industrial incidents. In July 2006, an explosion at a fluorobenzene plant in Linhai County killed 22 and injured 29. In the spring of 2007, industrial pollution led to an outbreak of blue algae in Taihu Lake that was severe enough to cause the suspension of the water supply in Wuxi, a major industrial hub that is home to about 2.5 million people.
The incident in Yancheng prompted the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection to call a press conference to discuss how the environment in China continued to deteriorate despite numerous initiatives to improve it. A background document circulated at the conference stated that about one quarter of the water flowing in China's major rivers was still too contaminated to be used in any way, including for farm irrigation.