[EDITORIALS]Yellow dust and benzeneFollowing a chemical factory explosion in Jilin, China, a huge environmental accident has occurred. The Songhua River in the region was poisoned with benzene from the blast. The Songhua River is a source of drinking water in northeastern China and Russia’s Far East. After the accident, Harbin, which has a population of 10 million, lost its ability to function as a city. Khabarovsk, downstream of Harbin in Russia, declared a state of emergency.
Benzene is a highly volatile, toxic and cancer-causing chemical, but in winter, benzene loses much of its volatility. Besides, the downstream parts of the Heilong River, also known as the Amur River in Russia, are already frozen.
Under such circumstances, the polluted water cannot find its way out to the sea, lingering in the riverbed and prolonging the damage. The region’s ecosystem, which is a habitat for tigers and cranes, is expected to be hurt.
The environmental pollution of China has concerned us for a long time. China has emerged as the factory of the world and tries to overlook the issue of environmental pollution while putting the highest priority on development and growth. More than 50 percent of the cities in China are being damaged by acid rain, and more than 30 percent of China’s seven rivers, including the Yangtze, are filthy. Other research found that 80 percent of China’s rivers flowing into the Yellow Sea are polluted.
Fortunately enough, experts see a very low possibility that Korea will face direct damage. The Songhua River is physically far away from Korea and it flows out to the north. Still, pollution in China is no longer only China’s issue. Korea sees yellow dust and acid rain because of environmental pollution in China.
More catastrophes may follow, experts say, and we have to be prepared to combat the aftermath of Chinese pollution or industrial accidents. The collaboration among China, Korea and Japan must be strengthened.
The environment ministers of the three countries meet only once a year to call for cooperation in what is only a symbolic gesture.
Korea has followed the same environmental path that China is on now, so we have a good deal of know-how to share, and it must be shared without reservation. A hotline should be opened and a system devised to provide early warning and exchanges of information when an accident with environmental effects that can reach us occurs.