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Chinese Coal Company Under Fire Over Chemical Spill

China, CHANGZHI

Provincial officials in China’s Shanxi province on January 8 ordered the Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group to shut down production at its facility in Changzhi City until it can meet safety requirements.

The move comes after a serious chemical spill at the facility last week contaminated the Zhuozhang River, a source of drinking water for more than a million people in Shanxi, Hebei and Henan provinces.

Four senior officials at plant, including the general manager, were fired on January 6 over the chemical leak scandal.

On December 31, a broken pipe at the Tianji Fangyuan facility (Tianji Fangyuan is a subsidiary of Tianji Coal Chemical Group) spilled 38.7 tons of the chemical aniline, a benzene derivative, into the Zhuozhang River. The company collected 30 tons of the spilled aniline, but the rest entered the river.

The public and the provincial government were not informed about the leak until five full days after it occurred.

The Changzhi city government is dealing with fallout from the incident, including suggestions that the city hid information about the spill. The amount leaked was underestimated by city officials. 

Zhang Bao, the mayor of Changzhi, issued a public apology on January 8 over his handling of the pollution crisis.

The previous day, he had told reporters that Tianji Fangyuan had immediately reported the spill to the city government, and claimed the leak involved less than 1.5 tons of the chemical.

"Based on this, the city government deemed it a normal accident that could be managed by the company and decided not to report to the provincial government," Zhang said at the time.

However, Wang Junyan, general manager of Tianji Group, said at the same press conference that the amount of aniline involved had been raised to 8.68 tons on January 5.

Wang apologized to the public for an "inaccurate survey and imprecise calculation."

Water samples taken from the river near the Shanxi and Hebei border showed nearly 720 times the accepted level of aniline at one point, according to official news agency Xinhua.

On January 7 China’s CCTV reported that water supplies had been restored in the area. The report did not provide any additional details.

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