Songhua River pollution /

Amur River Benzene Spill



Pollution on Nov. 13. 2005 

        The Songhua River in northeast China suffered a major water pollution incident owing to the explosion of a petrochemical plant at the upper reaches on Nov. 13. 2005. The main pollutants in the river are benzene and nitrobenzene[1] . And the concentrations of these two kinds of pollutants are 29.9 and 2.6 times of the standard level respectively.  

The toxic benzene-contaminated water of the river arrived in Harbin early Nov. 24. Harbin, home to a population of 9 million including 3.8 million in the urban area, has cut off water supply in the urban area since Nov. 23, an emergency action taken to ensure public safety[2].  

The Songhua River joins the Heilongjiang River and forms a natural border with the Russian Federation. The River continues into the Russian Federation and is named the Amur River. The river flows into the Sea of Okhotsk.



        The images show the location of Songhua River (which is named the Amur River in Russia) in northern China and the sketch map of the movement of polluted water through the river.

  China informed the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) of the major pollution in northeast China's Songhua River on Saturday. The Chinese government has also informed Russia of the pollution, which could affect its neighbor when the pollution slick flows into the Heilongjiang River bordering China and Russia[3].  

        The Songhua (known as Sungari in Russia) feeds into the Amur, and provides the main source of drinking water for the 600,000 residents of the Russian city of Khabarovsk, across the border from China[4].  
        The chief of the region's external economic policy department of Russia Alexander Kiryanov said. The pollution will have negative impact not only on the Khabarovsk region, but also most likely Sakhalin, the Kurils, Hokkaido and shores of continental Russia south of the Amur, and Korea. That may include persistent components that are likely to spread wide once the Amur washes them into the sea [5].



        This image from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite shows the Songhua River just downstream (east) of the city of Harbin on April 1, 2002. The mainstem of the river and its myriad channels appear deep blue, winding from bottom left toward center right. To the west of the river, shallow lakes appear electric blue. The surrounding landscape reveals the Manchurian Plain in shades of brown, crossed by pale lines (roads) and spots (villages and towns).

        The high-resolution image covers an area of 31.9 kilometers by 41.0 kilometers, and is centered near 45.4 degrees North latitude, 126.9 degrees East longitude. (Image courtesy NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.)


        The image shows an aerial view of the front of polluted water of Songhua River reaching Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province on Nov. 24, 2005.

         Residents wait to get water pumped from a well in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Nov. 24, 2005. Harbin's major water source Songhuajiang River has been polluted due to blasts at a chemical plant in neighboring Jilin Province Nov. 13. [Xinhua Photo] [2]

        Workers check the amount of the mineral water at a water supply station in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on Nov. 24, 2005. [Xinhua Photo][2]

         Dead fish lie in a section of the Songhua River in Jilin,Jilin Province,  northeast China's November 22, 2005 [6]. (CHINA OUT REUTERS/China Newsphoto)

        A local resident fishes in Songhua River in Jilin City, northeast China's Jilin Province, December 7, 2005. (CHINA OUT REUTERS/China Newsphoto)


Benzene/ Nitrobenzene – toxicity and ecological toxicity 

Related link: 

Benzene (C6H6) 

Benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is produced by the burning of natural products. It is a component of products derived from coal and petroleum and is found in gasoline and other fuels. Benzene is used in the manufacture of plastics, detergents, pesticides, and other chemicals. Research has shown benzene to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing). With exposures from less than five years to more than 30 years, individuals have developed, and died from, leukemia. Long-term exposure may affect bone marrow and blood production. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and death.  

Nitrobenzene (C6H5NO2) 

A very poisonous, flammable, pale yellow, liquid aromatic compound with an odor like that of bitter almonds. It is sometimes called oil of mirbane or nitrobenzol. Nitrobenzene melts at 5.85°C, boils at 210.9°C, is only slightly soluble in water, but is very soluble in ethanol, ether, and benzene. It is prepared by treating benzene with a mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids; in the resulting nitration reaction, one hydrogen in the benzene molecule is replaced with a nitro group, NO2. The major use of nitrobenzene is in the production of aniline, commercially the most important amine; nitrobenzene is heated with iron and dilute hydrochloric acid, and the resulting anilinium chloride is treated with sodium carbonate to release aniline. In the pharmaceutical industry nitrobenzene is used in the production of the analgesic acetaminophen, or paracetamol. Nitrobenzene is also used in shoe and floor polishes, leather dressings, and paint solvents to mask unpleasant odors. As oil of mirbane, nitrobenzene was used as an inexpensive perfume for soaps and cosmetics but is now considered too toxic for such applications.

Useful links:

Chemical Toxicity Studies on Aquatic Organisms

Related link:

More Information about Songhua River refer to


1.         Major river pollution confirmed in northeast China, 2005-11-23 16:14:42,

2.         Songhua River polluted, govt takes measures,  Friday, November 25, 2005,

3.         China informs UNEP, UNDP of Songhua River pollution, 2005-11-26 18:40:46

4.         Water pollution found in eastern Russia following Chinese factory blast VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, Feb 14, 2006

5.         Toxic slick to reach Japan in spring,Russian official warn. Agence France Presse News, February 8, 2006, .

6.         Songhua River pollution. Xinhua English 2005-11-23 01:51:27.

 (Data collected by ZZ: and