The top Chinese health official said Wednesday that the pollution of Shonghua River by a chemical spill was a big problem that highlighted China's need to have contingency plans on toxic spills. Running water was cut off to Harbin, the capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province, for five days after a Nov. 13 explosion at a nearby chemical plant spewed toxins, including cancer-causing benzene, into the Songhua River.
Health Minister Gao Qiang said the incident highlighted a "major problem." "This matter has alerted us to the need for perfect contingency plans and the effective implementation of those plans when faced with an emergency," Gao said at a press conference. Water was restored on Sunday and officials declared the water safe for drinking on Tuesday. "Our goal is to ensure that we provide the people with safe, clean, healthy drinking water," Gao said. The spill was headed to the Russian city of Khabarovsk after flowing into the larger Heilong River, called the Amur in Russian. Chinese officials have said the spill was expected to reach Khabarovsk around Dec. 10-12, or sooner, reports the AP. I.L.