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Lessons from China’s chemical plant blast

Lessons from China’s chemical plant blast should influence policy – UN agency

12 January 2006 – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said today that lessons learned from dealing with November’s explosion at a petrochemical plant in northeastern China, which caused major river pollution, should influence government policy.

This conclusion is one of several contained in a report from a four-person team of UNEP experts who visited the area last month to examine the blast at the Jilin Petrochemical Corporation and its polluting effects on the Songhua River. In its report, the team called for knowledge gained from the incident to be incorporated into policy, legislation and enforcement.

The Songhua River merges with another river and forms a natural border with the Russian Federation to eventually flow into the Sea of Okhotsk. China and UNEP “have agreed to share this report with the relevant Russian authorities,” the Kenyan-based agency said in a news release.

The UNEP report described 13 November 2004 Songhua river spill as “probably one of the largest transboundary chemical spill incidents in a river system in recent years.” It stressed that the accident has “major transboundary and international significance” and suggested that both China and Russia provide access to “independent and impartial” sampling and chemical analysis of the spill.

During the initial phase after the explosion, the Government’s “communication and information sharing with the general public was not adequate enough to ensure appropriate responses of the affected population,” UNEP’s report said, pointing out that the agency’s programmes aimed at preparing for local emergencies might prove useful in China.

The report also praised a recently established joint monitoring programme between China and Russia, calling it “an encouraging step in further multilateral cooperation on shared water resources.”

UNEP said it was ready to assist the Chinese authorities further, in relation to both the current spill and with measures to reduce the risk of a similar incident in the future.

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