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China detains man for spreading pollution rumours

By Staff
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BEIJING, Feb 23 (Reuters) China, which this week warned officials they would be punished for covering up pollution, has detained a man after he sent text messages telling people of a new case of water pollution, media reported today.

Zhou Qinghai was detained by police for ''reporting faulty alarms and making chaos'' in Mudanjiang in northeastern Heilongjiang province, the scene of the country's worst water pollution in recent years after an explosion at a chemical pant in November in neighbouring Jilin.

Zhou sent text messages warning people of a possible water cutoff for three or four days after he overheard people talking on a bus about the contamination of the city water source and saw reports by local media questioning the quality of water, the Beijing News said.

He was detained this week, the newspaper said, without saying if he would be charged or giving other details.

The ''faulty information'' had caused ''bad social influence'', and city residents had been rushing to buy and store water since Monday after an unidentified pollutant was found in the water supply.

Xinhua news agency later identified it as a fungus caused by industrial waste.

But the taps had not been turned off in the city as water samples had shown the supply to be normal, it added.

Environmental degradation, from filthy air in the cities to toxic slicks in the rivers, has become one of the key issues sparking social unrest in China.

In a recent survey, respondents said they were ''most dissatisfied'' about the lack of communication between the government and the people over the environment, the Beijing Youth Daily said.

In one of the worst accidents, the Jilin government reported river pollution a full three days after the blast at a chemical plant, which caused cancer-causing benzene compounds to leak into a major river.

It led to the turning off of taps in cities and towns in Heilongjiang province, as well as emergency measures in neighbouring Russia.

Xie Zhenhua, the former head of China's environmental watchdog, was forced to resign for failing to report and monitor the spill.

REUTERS SHR PM1657

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