South China Courts Jail 13 People Over River Contamination

NANNING, China

Several courts in China’s southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have handed down jail sentences for 13 people over heavy metal pollution that occurred last year.

Industrial effluents containing cadmium were being discharged into the Longjiang River from as early as April 2011. However, the contamination was not discovered until dead fish started were observed in the river in January 2012.

Investigators found cadmium at levels 80 times above national standards, which threatened drinking water supplies to Liuzhou city’s 1.5 million residents. It took a month of emergency treatment to restore the river’s water quality.

Of the 13 people sentenced to jail terms, three were government environmental officials, who were found to have failed in their duties by allowing plants to avoid inspections.

 Zeng Juefa, former vice director of the city's environmental protection bureau, was sentenced by the Dahua County court in Hechi City to a four-and-a-half year prison term for dereliction of duty and taking bribes.

The Liubei district court of Liuzhou City sentenced both Lan Qunfeng and Wei Yi, former heads of a district environmental inspection team under the environmental protection bureau of Jinchengjiang District, Hechi City, to jail terms of three-and-a-half years for the same charges.

However, these officials took smaller bribes of about $3,200 USD; Zeng’s bribes totaled nearly $7,300 USD, which may explain his longer prison term.

The other 10 people to imprisoned were managers at companies found to be responsible for the contamination. Three managers from Guangxi Jinhe Mining Co. Ltd., which was also fined about $162,000 USD, were sentenced to three-year jail terms by the Jinchengjiang District court in Hechi.

Seven managers at Hongquan Lithophone Material Co., Ltd. received three- to five-year terms.

Earlier this month, OOSKAnews reported that dead fish were found floating in the Hejiang River in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The river was subsequently found to be polluted with thallium and cadmium from activities in its upstream Guangdong province.

The concentrations of both chemicals were found to be above legal limits, with thallium levels 1.2 times higher than the maximum allowed and the cadmium levels putting the river quality into the category of second-degree contamination, meaning its water is not safe for consumption.

The Hejiang is a major tributary of the Xijiang River, which in turn is a major tributary of the Pearl River. They are major water sources for Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau.

An estimated 35,000 people living along the Xijiang River will be affected by the pollution and will not be able to use the river’s waters for several weeks. Tens of millions more people in the Pearl River delta are on alert.

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