China chemical-spill crisis eases, but water’s still not safe to drink

As Americans gorged on turkey and pumpkin pie, a 50-mile-long toxic chemical spill was flowing along the Songhua River through northern China — the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s recent history. The crisis began on Nov. 13, when two explosions at a state-owned petrochemical plant in Jilin killed five workers, injured 70, forced about 10,000 to flee, and dumped 100 tons of benzene (among other nasties) into the Songhua. As the slick hit the industrial city of Harbin, officials shut down the city’s water system and trucked in drinking water for 3.8 million residents — but also tried to cover up the contamination crisis, setting off a panicked exodus and infuriating citizens across the country. Now the waterworks have been restarted, but officials say the water still isn’t safe for drinking or bathing. The spill is flowing toward Russia, where it’s expected to reach the 580,000 residents of Khabarovsk within weeks.