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Transparency best way to quell pollution concerns: China Daily editorial

China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-26 21:26

Chinese rescuers clean contaminated water after the tube connecting the vessel and the wharf broke, leaking 6.97 tons of C9 aromatics in the water, at a port in Quanzhou city, China's Fujian province, Nov 9, 2018.[Photo/IC]

It is now clear that on Nov 4, 69.1 metric tons of the petroleum derivative C9 — rather than 6.97 tons as previously reported — leaked into the sea off Quanzhou, the most populous city in Fujian province.

The local government announced the results of the official investigation on Sunday, three weeks after the leak of the chemical that is toxic to humans and has already sickened more than 50 people and affected 20 hectares of aquatic farms, causing millions of yuan in economic loss.

The authorities said on Sunday that Fujian Donggang Petrochemical Industry had deliberately concealed and forged evidence to hide the true extent of the leak and some local officials had failed to play their supervisory role. Seven people have been detained.

The incident has once again exposed local officials need to improve their response to emergencies.

After the incident broke out, instead of trying to find out the exact amount of the leak by using professional methods, the local environmental officials just accepted the figure given by the company. Worse, they rushed to announce that all air and seawater pollution indexes were improving and back to normal, causing some credulous local residents who took part in cleanup work without any protection gear to fall sick.

Rather than halting all classes and outdoor activities for school students, as required when an environmental emergency occurs, the local education department failed to notify teachers and parents of the possible dangers and classes continued as normal.

And rather than keeping the public well-informed, local police "accompanied" reporters, and one journalist from Caixin disclosed how she was tailed, prevented from taking pictures, and harassed by police when trying to investigate the incident.

In the face of the continuous public doubts over the scale of the pollution, the local officials repeatedly asked the local people not to believe and spread rumors, rather than addressing their concerns with timely updates on the findings of their investigation.

It was pure luck that the leak this time was not any larger, or the consequences could have been more devastating. Still it will take a long time for the damage done to the credibility of the local government to be repaired.

This is a lesson that should be learned by all government officials nationwide.

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