Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group chemical spill

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The Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group chemical spill was a severe chemical spill that occurred in Shanxi Province, China during 2012–13. More than 39 tons of anilines (toxic chemicals widely used as precursors in the manufacture of pigment, [1] herbicides [2] and other chemicals) leaked from a loose drainage valve at a plant owned by Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group in the Shanxi city of Changzhi. This chemical spill contaminated the Zhuozhang River which is the source of drinking water for more than one million people, and so caused a water crisis in the downstream City of Handan, Hebei Province.

Shanxi Province

Shanxi is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the North China region. Its one-character abbreviation is "晋", after the state of Jin that existed here during the Spring and Autumn period.

China State in East Asia

China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia and the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.404 billion. Covering approximately 9,600,000 square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the third- or fourth-largest country by total area. Governed by the Communist Party of China, the state exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

Aniline chemical compound

Aniline is an organic compound with the formula C6H5NH2. Consisting of a phenyl group attached to an amino group, aniline is the prototypical aromatic amine. Its main use is in the manufacture of precursors to polyurethane and other industrial chemicals. Like most volatile amines, it has the odor of rotten fish. It ignites readily, burning with a smoky flame characteristic of aromatic compounds.


Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group

Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group is one of the five largest state-owned coal companies in Shanxi. [3] They use a water-intensive gasification process to convert coal to chemicals that are critical for a wide range of products. According to a Greenpeace report, [4] the factory owned by Tianji Industry Group in Changzhi dumps more than six million tons of wastewater per year. In 2010 and 2011, Tianji was judged by Shanxi’s environmental protection bureau to be polluting above normal levels in four quarters and was fined each time.

Gasification process that converts organic or fossil fuel based carbonaceous materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide

Gasification is a process that converts organic- or fossil fuel-based carbonaceous materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This is achieved by reacting the material at high temperatures (>700 °C), without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam. The resulting gas mixture is called syngas or producer gas and is itself a fuel. The power derived from gasification and combustion of the resultant gas is considered to be a source of renewable energy if the gasified compounds were obtained from biomass.

Coal A combustible sedimentary rock composed primarily of carbon

Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other elements; chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. Coal is formed if dead plant matter decays into peat and over millions of years the heat and pressure of deep burial converts the peat into coal.

Aniline leak

An aniline leak occurred on December 31, 2012 due to a poor-quality metal hose. About 39 tons of aniline, a potential carcinogen, went into the drainage from the fertilizer factory. Thirty tons were contained by a reservoir, but nearly nine tons leaked into the Zhuozhang River. A large amount of dead fish was seen in the upper reaches of the Zhuozhang River. Leaked aniline traveled along the Zhang River and reached reservoirs in neighboring cities.

A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that promotes carcinogenesis, the formation of cancer. This may be due to the ability to damage the genome or to the disruption of cellular metabolic processes. Several radioactive substances are considered carcinogens, but their carcinogenic activity is attributed to the radiation, for example gamma rays and alpha particles, which they emit. Common examples of non-radioactive carcinogens are inhaled asbestos, certain dioxins, and tobacco smoke. Although the public generally associates carcinogenicity with synthetic chemicals, it is equally likely to arise in both natural and synthetic substances. Carcinogens are not necessarily immediately toxic; thus, their effect can be insidious.

Fertilizer material of natural or synthetic origin that is applied to soils or leaves to supply plant nutrients for better growth

A fertilizer or fertiliser is any material of natural or synthetic origin that is applied to soils or to plant tissues to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants. Many sources of fertilizer exist, both natural and industrially produced.

Zhang River river in the Peoples Republic of China

The Zhang River is a tributary of the Wei River in China. The river commences at the confluence of the rivers Qingzhang and Zhuozhang, where between She county of Hebei and Linzhou of Henan, then joins the Wei River in Guantao county, Hebei. A dam on the Zhang River diverts water into the Red Flag Canal.

Water crisis

The contaminated Zhuozhang River feeds into the Zhang River, which is a source of drinking water for Shanxi, Hebei and Henan provinces. Therefore, the spill affected at least 28 villages and a handful of cities of more than one million people, including Handan. After receiving confirmation of this chemical spill, officials in Handan shut down part of its municipal water supply system, [5] which sent residents into a scramble for bottled water. In the countryside, officials also told farmers not to graze their livestock near the river. Fire engines were mobilized to bring water to the city's residents and 66,000 bottles of clean water were bought in from other cities. Underground reservoirs were also opened to support the city’s water use.

Hebei Province

Hebei is a province of China in the North China region. The modern province was established in 1911 as Zhili Province or Chihli Province. Its one-character abbreviation is "冀" (Jì), named after Ji Province, a Han dynasty province (zhou) that included what is now southern Hebei. The name Hebei literally means "north of the river", referring to its location entirely to the north of the Yellow River.

Henan Province

Henan is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Henan is often referred to as Zhongyuan or Zhongzhou (中州) which literally means "central plain land" or "midland", although the name is also applied to the entirety of China proper. Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization with over 3,000 years of recorded history, and remained China's cultural, economical, and political center until approximately 1,000 years ago.

Handan Prefecture-level city in Hebei, Peoples Republic of China

Handan is a prefecture-level city located in the southwest of Hebei province, China. The southernmost prefecture-level city of the province, it borders Xingtai on the north, and the provinces of Shanxi on the west, Henan on the south and Shandong on the east. At the 2010 census, its population was 9,174,683 inhabitants whom 2,845,790 lived in the built-up area made of 3 urban districts, Handan and Yangyan counties, and Shahe City in Xintai municipality, largely being conurbated now.

River cleanup

Nearly 5000 workers were called in for an immediate clean-up of the river. [6] Because of the low temperature, a large part of contaminants was stopped by ice in the river. 670 tons of contaminated ice and more than 750 tons of wastewater have been cleared away. Activated carbon was also used to absorb the chemicals remaining in the unfrozen water below. [7] After several days of cleanup, concentrations of aniline in the river decreased to 2.15 mg/L from the previous level of 72 mg/L, according to data from Wangjiazhuang monitoring station on Zhuozhang river near the eastern border of Shanxi province. [8] However, based on national standards, the concentration should be less than 0.1 mg/L. Since the pollutants are not expected to decompose easily, it took weeks to solve the problems caused by this spill.

Activated carbon form of carbon processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area

Activated carbon, also called activated charcoal, is a form of carbon processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions. Activated is sometimes substituted with active.

Delayed report

After the aniline leak occurred, officials in Changzhi delayed reporting the spill for five days. The reason for delay is not clear, but it may be due to the large underestimations of the amount of leaked anilines in the first few days after spills. According to the regulation passed by the State Council in 2007, an institution responsible for an accident should report within an hour to the production safety department of a county-level government or higher. The report should reach a higher level of government within two hours. The mayor of Changzhi has apologized for the delay in reporting the spill affecting supplies of drinking water. [9]

Changzhi Prefecture-level city in Shanxi, Peoples Republic of China

Changzhi is a prefecture-level city in the southeast of Shanxi Province, China, bordering the provinces of Hebei and Henan to the northeast and east, respectively. Historically, the city was one of the 36 administrative areas extant under the reign of the first emperor of a unified China.


After investigation into this spill, 24 managers in the company who were responsible for supervision were given administrative disciplinary sanctions. The mayor of Changzhi was removed from his position. Two heads of the plant's storage workshop were fired. [10]


The conflict over the Changzhi spill has drawn attention to the growing problems with water use and pollution in China. In 2011, inspections in 200 cities across China found that water in 55 percent of the tests was rated “fairly poor to extremely poor”. [11] During the last ten years, China has witnessed major pollution incidents due to the pursuit of economic benefit and the neglect of pollution control by local governments and enterprises. Deficiencies in emergency mechanisms to handle environmental incidents at some local governments worsen the pollution problems. [12]

See also

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  3. Current conditions and development of Tianji Group Company, in Chinese
  4. Greenpeace Report, Tianji pollution remains (in Chinese), Jan 2013 in Shanxi Province
  5. China.org.cn Report, Aniline Spills, Jan 2013
  6. TheAtlantic Report, China's Poison-Filled River, Jan 2013
  7. Chinadaily Report, Chemical leak into river puts focus on plant, Jan 11th 2013
  8. China org Report, Officials sacked over chemical leaks in N. China river, Jan 7th 2013
  9. UPI Report, Chemical spill poisons drinking water, Jan 8th 2013
  10. Xinhua Net Report, 39 punished over N China chemical leak, Feb 20th 2013
  11. New York Times Report, Spill in China Underlines Environmental Concerns, March 3rd 2013
  12. China org Report, Officials sacked over chemical leaks in N. China river, Jan 7th 2013