The Songhua River spill: China, Dec 2005 - Field mission report


1 Introduction
Following an accident in a petro-chemical plant that led to a major pollution on the Songhua River in China, the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) invited an expert team of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for a field mission to the affected region. This report reflects the findings of the team.

1.1 Background to the spill

The team was informed that on 13 November 2005, an explosion occurred at a petrochemical plant of the Jilin Petrochemical Corporation in Jilin Province, China. The information available indicated that the explosion led to a spill of an estimated 100 tons of toxic substances made up of a mixture of benzene, aniline and nitrobenzene, with surface waters concentrations exceeding the surface water levels permissible in China. The ratio of the substances spilled is not known at this time and investigations on the accident site are ongoing. The pollution entered subsequently the Songhua River and a plume of contamination started flowing downstream. The Songhua River joins the Heilongjiang River and forms a natural border with the Russian Federation. The River continues into the Russian Federation and is named the Amur River. The river flows into the Sea of Okhotsk.

1.2 Scope of the mission

Following the accident, on 5 December 2005 UNEP was invited to conduct a site visit to the pollution belt along the Songhua River with the following terms of reference provided by SEPA:

- Conduct an on-site visit to the major affected cities;

- Discuss with local officials about the recent incident and measures taken for protecting public health and the environment

- Discuss with national and local experts on the pollution situation and the measures taken so far.

- Provide possible advice to the government of China on the environmental disaster prevention in the future.

After the visit UNEP discussed with senior officials of SEPA the major findings and possible recommendations for further immediate actions for reducing and treating the pollution.

UNEP regrets that it was not in a position to share expert opinions on public health measures since the request to include a public health expert in the mission was not accepted by SEPA. Therefore, the public health aspect has been omitted from the original terms of reference.

1.3 Mission team

Upon receiving SEPA's invitation, UNEP immediately deployed a 4-member field team consisting of the Head of the Implementation Unit, Production and Consumption Branch, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (Team Leader); the Country Coordinator of UNEP's China Office, the Regional Industry Officer of the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific; and the Programme Officer of the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit. Mrs. Monique Barbut, Director, Division of Technology, Industry and Economy of UNEP joined the field team for final discussions with SEPA.

The mission took place between 9 and 16 December 2005. A detailed mission itinerary is provided in Annex 1.

1.4 Meteorological conditions

During the field mission, the temperatures in Jiamusi and Harbin ranged between -10 and -14 degrees Celsius during daytime, and between -21 and -23 degrees Celsius at night. No precipitation was observed during the mission

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