July 15, 2010 / 4:58 AM / 9 years ago

China newspaper slams mining firm after spill

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) - One of China’s leading newspapers slammed a major mining firm Thursday for its poor handling of a poisonous leak at a copper mine, as the company said it would cooperate with regulators in an investigation.

Sewage water is drained from a leaked sewage tank (far) at a copper mine in Shanghang, Fujian province, July 13, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer

Zijin Mining Group suspended trading of its shares on Monday after news broke about the spill of wastewater containing acidic copper from its Zijinshan Copper Mine, into the Ting river in the southeastern province of Fujian.

But the contamination began much earlier, on the afternoon of July 3, and the public was initially kept in the dark about the spill, which went on for nearly 24 hours.

Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily said the company explained that it did not report the accident earlier as “they thought it was just as small matter.”

“How can a company like Zijin Mining, which is an industry with a high risk of pollution, not take a ‘small problem’ seriously?” the newspaper said in a commentary.

“In industries with a high risk of pollution, small problems are the hidden dangers that lead to large accidents, and you can’t ever just count on your luck,” it added.

The company said it would fully cooperate in a probe into the spill after receiving a notice from the Fujian Regulatory Bureau of the China Securities Regulatory Commission regarding the incident. It gave no other details.

Thousands of fish — a total 1.9 million kg (4.2 million lb) — were killed by the 9,100 cubic meters (321,400 cu ft) of waste water that escaped from a mine containment tank, according to state media reports.

Though water from the river has been declared safe to drink, the 60,000 people affected by the spill are still wary, because the river is a chemical blue color and smells unpleasant.

Villagers are now drawing their water from wells, but worry even those may be polluted. The firm has halted production and said it would compensate fish farmers for their losses.

China has been battling to control the damage to its environment caused by more than three decades of breakneck economic growth, from acid rain to desertification.

The China Daily Thursday cited a survey in the booming southern province of Guangdong as saying 40 percent of its soil was contaminated by heavy metals, partly caused by the more than 3,000 mines operating there.

The government has also become increasingly worried about public anger at environmental problems, especially pollution.

“Mass incidents” — or riots and protests — sparked by environmental problems have been rising at a rate of 30 percent per year, according to China’s environmental protection minister.

Earlier this week more than 1,000 people threw rocks at police and blocked roads in southern China in protest at pollution from a plant owned by one of the country’s largest private aluminum producers.

Reporting by Donny Kwok in Hong Kong and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Alex Richardson

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