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Cadmium spill no threat to Macau water safety

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image An excavator works during a mission to dredge polluted water for purification at the confluence of Longjiang and Rongjiang rivers in Liuzhou, Guangxi autonomous region

Macau’s water supply is safe despite cadmium pollution in a Guangxi region river connected to the Pearl River, authorities in mainland China assured on Saturday.
Water and environmental authorities in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region are still working to control a cadmium spill that was detected on Thursday, said state news agency Xinhua.
Cadmium pollutants may be double the restricted level in the downtown section of the Liujiang River in the city of Liuzhou, but authorities are making efforts to contain the contamination within the required standard, said Xu Zhencheng.
The expert with the task force handling the pollution emergency is a deputy chief of the South China Environmental Science Institute under the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The water supply for residents in Liuzhou remained safe at mid-day Saturday, said  Zheng Junkang, mayor of Liuzhou.
“We will spare no effort in ensuring the safety of drinking water,” Zheng said. “In case the tap water supply is suspended, the government will do its best to resume supply in the shortest time possible.”
The mayor said the government has activated a contingency plan to tap into the 3.5 tonnes of underground water reserves if the original drinking water source was polluted.
Cadmium is a carcinogenic chemical mostly found in industrial effluents.
The pollutant was detected in the Liujiang River Thursday afternoon, more than 10 days after industrial waste from a local mining company spilt it into the Longjiang River, a tributary upstream of the Liujiang River, according to the city’s environmental protection bureau.

Pollution diluted

Chemicals have been dumped into a dam on the Longjiang River in order to help suspended heavy metal particles aggregate, facilitating the removal of the pollutants from the water.
In an aim to curb potential sources of new pollution, environmental authorities in the city of Hechi, where the contamination originated, have ordered a suspension of production at all seven heavy metal producers along the upstream section of the Longjiang River.
More than 60 percent of cadmium content in the Longjiang River in Hechi, which was previously reported as five times higher than the restricted level, has been diluted and absorbed, according to experts.
They said no contamination has been spotted in the downstream Qianjiang, rivers of Xunjiang and Xijiang – a trunk of the Pearl River that forms a major water source for Macau, Hong Kong and Guangdong province.
The 500 million cubic metres of water at the Honghua Hydropower Station on the Liujiang River is expected to substantially dilute the pollutants, and, therefore, cadmium will be contained within the restricted level in the waters downstream of the station, Xu said.
However, the spill has caused panic buying of bottled water in parts of Liuzhou, a city with a population of 3.7 million.
A supermarket salesperson in the city’s downtown area said sales of bottled water had more than tripled in recent days.

Mounting fears

“Some people bought 10 cardboard boxes of bottled water at a time,” the salesperson said, adding that the store has ample stock, and there is no immediate threat to supply despite the surge in demand.
The local market watchdog has moved to ensure that prices for bottled water remain stable and supplies are sufficient in case the pollution prompts panic buying.
Mining firm Guangxi Jinhe has been held responsible for the contamination.
This is the second heavy metal spill reported in less than six months in the Pearl River basin. Last August over 5,200 tonnes of highly toxic chromium compound waste were dumped in Nanpan River in Yunnan province, close to the source of the Pearl River.
At the time the local Maritime Administration also assured that Macau residents could drink tap water “without any concern”.
But the latest spill again raises doubts about heavy metal contamination in mainland China, after earlier this month a report said up to 10 percent of rice grown in China is contaminated with harmful metals like cadmium.
And last October a researcher with the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, warned that the content of heavy metal like copper and zinc in fishing ports near Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Macau is much higher than in other domestic waters.

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