Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chinese River Mysteriously Turns Red

The Associated Press
Monday, October 23, 2006; 9:05 PM

BEIJING -- A half-mile section of China's Yellow River turned "red and smelly" after an unknown discharge was poured into it from a sewage pipe, state media said Monday.

The incident in Lanzhou, a city of 2 million people in western Gansu province, follows a string of industrial accidents that have poisoned major rivers in China over the last year, forcing several cities to shut down their water systems.

A local resident stands near a section of China's Yellow River which has turned red after pollution caused by discharge from a sewage pipe in Lanzhou, in western Gansu province Monday Oct. 23, 2006. A kilometer-long section of the river turned
A local resident stands near a section of China's Yellow River which has turned red after pollution caused by discharge from a sewage pipe in Lanzhou, in western Gansu province Monday Oct. 23, 2006. A kilometer-long section of the river turned "red and smelly" after a sewage pipe discharged red liquid on Sunday. Environmental protection officials took samples and were trying to determine whether the sewage was toxic. (AP Photo/EyePress) (AP)

It wasn't immediately clear what was tainting the section of the Yellow River. Environmental protection officials took samples and were trying to determine whether the sewage was toxic, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"Residents were alarmed to see a sewage pipe pouring red water into the country's second longest river" on Sunday between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., the agency said.

A news photo from the local paper showed a resident in the city center by a stretch of the river _ a drinking water source for millions _ that was rose-colored instead of the usual milky brown. Other photos showed patches of bright red and pink.

An official from Yellow River Water Resource Committee in Lanzhou confirmed the pollution. He said they were still analyzing the sample and had not determined what caused it. Like many Chinese officials, he gave only his family name, Wang.

Environmental protection has taken on new urgency for Chinese leaders following a November 2005 chemical spill in the Songhua River in northeastern China which forced the city of Harbin to shut down its water supply for days and sent toxins flowing into Russia.

China's cities are among the world's smoggiest, and the government says its major rivers, canals and lakes are badly polluted by industrial, agricultural and household pollution.

Hundreds of millions of people live without adequate supplies of clean drinking water. Throughout the country, protests have erupted over complaints by farmers that uncontrolled discharges by factories are ruining crops and poisoning water supplies.

"The Yellow River is the mother river of our country," said one bulletin board posting Monday on Sina.com, a major Chinese news Web site. "See how it has been ruined!"

Said another: "Let the mayor of Lanzhou drink the water and then they will immediately have measures in place to deal with the environmental pollution."

Kang Mingke, an official with the city's environment protection bureau, said there were no chemical plants located nearby, according to Xinhua. He said the red water could have come from central heating companies who dye their hot water to prevent people from diverting it for their own use, the news agency said.

John Hocevar, an oceans specialist for Greenpeace USA, said that the photos he had seen of the spill might indicate a "red tide," a burst of toxic plankton in the water, spurred by the presence of nutrient-rich waste from the sewage spill.

Alternatively, he said industrial toxins could have caused the red color. "It's too early to say what's exactly in this," he said. "It could be just about anything."

Noting that local government officials have said there is no industry in the area, Hocevar said if the discoloration is the result of industrial waste, it would have to come from illegal dumping.

"For a spill this size to have this kind of effect, it would have to be illegal," he said.

The Doomsday Seed Vault

By DOUG MELLGREN, Associated Press Writer 40 minutes ago

LONGYEARBYEN, Norway - A "doomsday" seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened Tuesday deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

"The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is our insurance policy," Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told delegates at the opening ceremony. "It is the Noah's Ark for securing biological diversity for future generations."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya were among the dozens of guests who had bundled up for the ceremony inside the vault, about 425 feet deep inside a frozen mountain.

"This is a frozen Garden of Eden," Barroso said.

The vault will serve as a backup for hundreds of other seed banks worldwide. It has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples from around the world and shield them from man-made and natural disasters.

Dug into the permafrost of the mountain, it has been built to withstand an earthquake or a nuclear strike.

Norway owns the vault in Svalbard, a frigid archipelago about 620 miles from the North Pole. It paid $9.1 million for construction, which took less than a year. Other countries can deposit seeds without charge and reserve the right to withdraw them upon need.

The operation is funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which was founded by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and Biodiversity International, a Rome-based research group.

"Crop diversity will soon prove to be our most potent and indispensable resource for addressing climate change, water and energy supply constraints, and for meeting the food needs of a growing population," said Cary Fowler, head of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Svalbard is cold, but giant air conditioning units have chilled the vault further to -0.4 Fahrenheit, a temperature at which experts say many seeds could last for 1,000 years.

Stoltenberg and Maathai delivered the first box of seeds to the vault during the opening ceremony — a container of rice seeds from 104 countries.

"This is unique. This is very visionary. It is a precaution for the future," Maathai, a Crop Diversity Trust board member, told The Associated Press after the ceremony.

The seeds are packed in silvery foil containers — as many as 500 in each sample — and placed on blue and orange metal shelves inside three 32-foot-by-88-foot storage chambers. Each vault can hold 1.5 million sample packages of all types of crop seeds, from carrots to wheat.

Construction leader Magnus Bredeli-Tveiten said the vault is designed to withstand earthquakes — successfully tested by a 6.2-magnitude temblor off Svalbard last week — and even a direct nuclear strike.

Many other seed banks are in less protected areas. For example, war wiped out seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one in the Philippines was flooded in the wake of a typhoon in 2006.