Toxic Chemical Spill in China Threatens Drinking Water and Spurs Public Outcry

Mayor of the Chinese city of Changzhi issues a rare apology for delay in disclosing chemical plant leak. Officials in China’s northern Shanxi province didn’t receive a report from the city about the spill until five days after the Dec. 31 incident, even though it should have been reported within two hours, the state Xinhua News Agency said. Nine tons of aniline, a colorless and poisonous liquid, leaked into the Zhuozhang River, threatening the drinking water supply downstream in Hebei province. The spill, from a ruptured pipe, led to the cutoff of water to 1 million people and added to concern over the safety of China’s scarce water supplies. In response, authorities fired four chemical plant officials and closed more than 100 other plants for inspections. The Financial Times, BloombergShanghai Daily

Japan to investigate reported dumping of radioactive debris from ruined Fukushima Daiichi plant. Reporters with Japan’s The Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that cleanup crews working near the nuclear plant, which suffered meltdowns in 2011, “dumped soil and leaves contaminated with radioactive fallout into rivers.” The journalists also observed, “Water sprayed on contaminated buildings has been allowed to drain back into the environment. And supervisors have instructed workers to ignore rules on proper collection and disposal of the radioactive waste.” At a news conference today, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary promised “stern measures” will be taken after the government investigates. The Asahi Shimbun, The New York Times 

Australia considers raising cigarette prices to more than $20 a pack. A proposal to raise billions of dollars, and deter smoking, by raising tobacco taxes repeatedly over the next five years is part of Australia’s latest National Tobacco Strategy. The increases, if approved, eventually would impose taxes of more than $13 a pack on cigarettes. That’s more than three times the highest cigarette tax in the U.S., the $4.35-a-pack levy in New York State. Supporters of the proposal cite studies suggesting that, for every 10 percent increase in cost, there is a 4 percent reduction in the rate of those who smoke. The plan is certain to be fought by tobacco companies which, as FairWarning has reported, are contesting the nation’s law requiring plain packaging for cigarettes. The Australian, Forbes

Obama administration proposes new food safety standards. The proposals by the Food and Drug Administration are part of a fundamental change aimed at preventing contamination rather than simply reacting to outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. Every year tainted foods sicken an estimated 48 million Americans and kill 3,000. Under the proposals, produce farmers would be required to ensure that their crops aren’t tainted by bad water or animal waste. Food-processing companies would be required to design and document sanitary measures. The proposals stem from a broader food-safety bill that President Obama signed two years ago and that many lawmakers, consumer advocates and industry officials say has taken far too long to implement. The Washington Post

Prospects for air pollution rules complicated by departure of EPA administrator. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, plans to leave this month, as the EPA continues to work on controversial air quality regulations that would limit sulfur in gasoline and greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. The timing could add heat to Senate Republicans’ scrutiny of whomever the White House nominates to be the next EPA chief. Environmentalists have long pressed EPA to move forward on both rules, and a regulatory agenda that the agency recently sent to the White House shows both are slated to be released by April. Republicans have accused EPA of turning out a stream of new regulations that hinder job creation. GreenWire

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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