Chinese city reassures public after chemical spill dissolves fishing nets

[BEIJING] A coastal city in southeastern China sought to reassure residents on Friday about their safety after a chemical spill into the ocean, which dissolved fishing nets, ignited fears about air and water contamination.

Chinese social media users have written thousands of posts urging the government in Quanzhou in Fujian province to identify the chemicals released during the leak from a tanker last week and accused the government of withholding information.

A local chemical trading firm leaked seven tonnes of the C9 aromatic solvent into the sea at an oil port in Quanzhou when loading the chemical into a tanker on Nov 3, according to state media.

Fujian Donggang Petrochemical, which operates chemical storage facilities at the port, did not follow proper safety practices when transferring the aromatic solvent from its storage to the vessel, causing the leakage, the Quanzhou government said in a statement on Friday.

Internet users expressed concern that the solvent could have included xylene, whose inhalation can affect the central nervous system and trigger symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and nausea.

The government said in its statement that a local hospital had received 52 patients who reported headaches, vomiting and sore throats after breathing the air near the spill site. One person also fell into the water at the spill site and is being treated in hospital for pneumonia, the statement added.

However, the statement made no direct mention of whether xylene was present.

The city government said it is still cleaning up the spill, but tests showed air quality met health standards and water quality is also safe as of Friday.

The solvent chemical also dissolved floating nets at a fishing farm, and the government will start compensating 152 fish farms affected by the spill, the government added.

The Chinese government launched a "war on pollution" in 2014 in a bid to reverse environmental damage and head off public anger, which has in some cases led to mass protests.


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