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Locals cry foul following chemical leak in SE China City

Photo: Beijing Daily

Residents in Quanzhou, Southeast China’s Fujian Province, have cried foul days after local government reassured them that seawater and air quality have returned to “normal” following a chemical leak.

The accident happened in the early on Sunday morning when a toxic substance called C9 aromatics was being transferred onto a chemical tanker ship at a petrochemical wharf in the city’s Quangang District, according to the Beijing Youth Daily. During the transfer, the tube connecting the vessel and the wharf broke, leaking 6.97 tons of C9 in the water.

A product of refining crude oil, C9 is typically used to produce adhesives, printing ink and paint, and is toxic to humans.

Quangang District Environment and Protection Bureau on Sunday evening advised that clean-up of the contaminated waters was “basically complete” and volatile organic compounds – a range of chemicals including some which are detrimental to health – were within safe levels.

Two days later, the bureau announced that the water quality was now suitable for fish farming.

However, the official statements did not match the reality as witnessed by the locals.

“A foul and pungent odor still remains in the air near the wharf, causing sickness, and yellow oil stains are still visible in fish farms,” an anonymous villager told Caixin.

As of press time, at least 52 people with symptoms including headaches, vomiting, and sore throats have been sent to hospitals, the Quangang district government said in a statement on Tuesday.

Ten people have been hospitalized, including one who contracted pneumonia after falling into the polluted waters, it added.

A viral photo of an attendance sheet from a local primary school showed that some pupils stayed home with symptoms including headaches and vomiting.

In an interview, Vivian Wang, a teacher in the district, expressed anger for a lack of media coverage and fake air quality announcements.

“At one site monitored by the environmental protection bureau, we saw water being sprinkled to improve the water quality. This data is not convincing,” Wang said.

The Quangang Bureau of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery has urged the public not to catch, sell, or eat seafood from Xiaocuo Village to “ensure safety”, the China News Service reported. The neighboring port city Xiamen has banned purchasing fish products from the village.

The Beijing News said that local fishermen had suffered huge losses ranging from tens of thousands of yuan to more than 1 million yuan ($144,300) due to the accident.

However, the impact of Quanzhou’s C9 leak crisis is continuing to grow.

On Thursday morning, in neighboring Shage Village, the sea also turned yellow with oil and carried a strong odor, according to local fishermen.

Some salt plants have shut down their seawater supply as a precaution until the quality can be proved safe.

Out of fear that they might purchase contaminated salt, many citizens rushed to stores to buy the product for stock.

The responsible company, Fujian Donggang Petrochemical Industry, has apologized and promised to compensate them for their losses, the Beijing Youth Daily reported.

Many Web users have taken to social media to criticize the local government for attempting to withhold information and playing down the severity of the incident.

Posts about the incident on China’s Twitter-like Weibo had been deleted earlier in the week, while the terms “Quangang carbon leak” could not be searched.

“Instead of caring about those who have shown symptoms of discomfort, the government is busy taking down netizens’ posts and making up fake air quality reports,” one irate Weibo user wrote.

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