China faces two more toxic river crises

Two new toxic spills have hit rivers in central China. Last week, cadmium seeped out of silt dredged in a cleanup effort on the industrialized Xiangjiang River, contaminating a 60-odd mile stretch of the waterway, and a broken pipe at a power plant dumped six tons of diesel fuel into a tributary of the Yellow River. Chinese officials are downplaying both incidents, saying that they’re using chemicals to neutralize the spills, and that drinking water supplies are safe. But with some 70 percent of China’s rivers polluted, more and more citizens are feeling that the country is paying too heavy an environmental price for its economic boom. “Some local authorities only pay attention to the environment when problems arise,” says local legislator Wang Guoxiang, “and sometimes then they still respond carelessly.” China has meanwhile announced that it will spend more than $3 billion over five years to clean up November’s massive benzene spill on the Songhua River.