Health warning after Chinese oil spill

The first details emerged today on the cause of China’s largest reported oil spill as environmentalists urged the government to do more to warn locals of potential dangers.

The oil spill has spread over at least 165 square miles of water after a pipeline at the busy north-eastern port of Dalian exploded a week ago.

The disaster has caused China to take a hard look at its ports, some of the busiest in the world.

The government said the explosion remained under investigation but appeared to have been caused by the continued pumping of a chemical into the pipeline.

China’s transport ministry ordered ports across the country to have emergency response plans and hold regular safety drills, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.

The ministry will also establish a database of all ports that handle dangerous goods.

Warnings of a “severe threat” to sea life and water quality as were issued China’s latest environmental crisis spread off the shores of Dalian, once named China’s most liveable city. One cleanup worker drowned this week, his body coated in crude.

Others have reported using chopsticks and their bare hands to remove the oil from the sea, while state media said 2,000 soldiers, 40 oil-skimming boats and hundreds of fishing boats were helping with the cleanup.

Environmental group Greenpeace, which has a team at the scene, urged the government to warn residents on nearby coastlines of the dangers.

“Greenpeace was ... surprised to see that the beaches have not been closed to visitors and lack any warning signs,” it said. “As a result, locals and visitors unaware of the extent of the oil spill were playing in the water with their kids, risking exposure to petroleum.”

It said fishermen without equipment were doing most of the cleanup work at one of Dalian’s most popular beaches, Jinshitan.

“They don’t even have face masks, the most basic and necessary of precautions. They don’t even know that they need to protect their skin from crude oil,” said Zhong Yu, one of the Greenpeace workers.

“We strongly urge the government to send professional staff and safety equipment to work on the cleanup process,” he said.

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