MAC: Mines and Communities

China Update

Published by MAC on 2006-03-14

China Update

14th March 2006

Chinese official warns of looming disaster

Environmental Management News

CHINA'S top environmental official has warned the world's most populous country could face disaster if it does not improve its protection of the environment.

More than half of China's 21,000 chemical companies are located near the Yangtze and Yellow rivers – which supply drinking water for tens of million of people – so accidents could have disastrous consequences, the director of the State Environmental Protection Administration said in Beijing, Associated Press reported.

"Facts have proved that prosperity at the expense of the environment is very superficial and weak," Zhou Shengxian told a news conference, the wire service said.

Environmental protection has taken on a new sense of urgency for the Government after a toxic spill along the Songua River in China's northeast shut down the country's seventh largest city, Harbin, and sent pollutants flowing into Russia.

The spill, caused by an explosion at a PetroChina-owned petrochemical plant, released about 100 tonnes of cancer-causing benzene and nitrobenzene into the river, which provides much of the drinking water to urban communities in northeastern China.

The disaster spelt the end of Zhou's predecessor's career and led to the introduction
of tougher penalties for environmental protection officials who allow or attempt to
cover up the environmental impact of the country's rapid economic growth.

China has grown at a breakneck speed of around 9.5% a year for the past two decades, causing pollution so severe it has sparked riots and health problems.

Chinese researchers, working with NASA and the US Department of Energy, have said that a ninefold increase in fossil fuel emissions over the past 50 years has enveloped China in a permanent haze.

Human pollution, such as particulate emissions, soot and sulphur from power generation, aerosols and vehicle exhausts, have created a fog-like haze over much of the country, reducing the amount of direct sunlight and heat reaching the region.

38 killed in three coal mine explosions

by China Daily

14th March 2006

Thirty-eight miners were killed in three separate coal mine gas blasts in the past two days.

As of 14 March, 18 miners have been found dead at the Rongsheng Colliery in Jiudonggou Village in Otog Banner in Inner Mongolia, north China.

At the time of the accident on 13 March, 34 miners were working in the pit. Thirteen miners have been rescued and three others are still missing.

Li Zhongfu, the owner of the Rongsheng Colliery, is in police custody and the coal mine's accounts have been frozen. The coal mine is privately-owned with 900,000 tons of annual production capacity.

When the accident occurred, the Otog Banner government was closing down illegal mines in the area. Until 14 March, the local government has blown up 76 illegal small mines, consisting of 232 pits, which have violated safety requirements.

Wang Wangwang, head of the Inner Mongolia Coal Industry Bureau, told Xinhua that there are now 1,310 coal mines in Inner Mongolia and 810 illegal small coal mines will be closed down due to safety concern by the end of May.

Another coal mine explosion also occurred yesterday at Taihe Coal Mine in Qitaihe City, Heilongjiang Province, in northeastern China. A total of 16 miners were working underground when the blast went off. Nine were killed and seven others were rescued. In November last year, 171 miners were killed in state-owned Dongfeng Coal Mine, which is also in Qitaihe City.

On 12 March, all 11 workers were killed after being trapped underground by a gas explosion which caused a cave-in at the county-owned Gaoping Colliery in Yongxing County, Hunan Province, central China.

Sources: Xinhua News Agency (14 March 2006)

China Legislator Praises Safety in Year of Disasters

by Reuters News Service, Beijing

10th March 2006

China's top legislator praised parliament on Thursday for saving lives through inspections of mines and polluting plants, despite a year marked by environmental disasters and thousands of coal mine deaths.

China's mining industry, the world's deadliest, killed nearly 6,000 people in 2005 - the same level as the previous year - despite repeated government clean-up campaigns.

The year also saw riots over factory pollution and an explosion at a chemical plant that poured toxic waste into the Songhua River, poisoning drinking water supplies for millions and turning China's environmental record into an international crisis.

"The National People's Congress Standing Committee has saved people's lives through its law enforcement inspections that led to closures of many deadly mines and polluting plants," Xinhua said. The nearly 3,000 delegates to the largely ceremonial congress are meeting for their 10-day annual session to discuss and approve policies set in place by the Communist Party.

"Work safety incidents, which always involve sacrifice of human lives, attracted wide public attention," Wu Bangguo, China's top legislator and the number two in the party hierarchy, said in a report to parliament.

Wu said legislators, who meet in smaller group Standing Committee sessions throughout the year, had hosted forums, inspected the implementation of laws and raised suggestions to the government, crediting their action with saving lives.

"The NPC Standing Committee examined work safety law implementation from various aspects," he said.

China had shut down more than 5,000 unsafe coal mines and government officials had withdrawn 562 million yuan ($70 million) worth of stakes in illegal mines on government orders, Wu said. On Wednesday, 16 officials found responsible for a coal mine flood in the southern province of Guangdong that killed 123 miners were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years with reprieve to six years, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Most were city-level officials or worked in the local work safety bureaux, indicating that while China's leadership tries to enforce a message of accountability, top officials are rarely punished over such disasters.

The mine had been operating without a licence and in violation of local government orders to shut down.

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