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Russia Prepares to Deal With Toxic Spill From China

A deadly chemical spill has reached Russian territory as it makes its way downriver from China. Officials in Russia's far eastern region are taking measures to deal with the spill of benzene, which is expected to pass the city of Khabarovsk in the next few days.

Officials in the Russian far east say they are taking measures to deal with the benzene, which has been drifting down a river system from neighboring China, since an explosion at a chemical plant there earlier this month.

Tests on Amur River water show the level of benzene is above normal, although officials caution the worst of the spill will not come for a few more days.

The Amur forms part of the border between Russia and China and up to 70 population centers with a total of 1.5 million people are likely to be affected.

One-third of them live in the major city of Khabarovsk, where officials have urged residents not to panic.

One environmental protection minister was shown drinking a glass of water on television in an attempt to allay fears of city residents, who have been stocking up on bottled water since news of the deadly spill broke.

Authorities in the region say tons of special charcoal used in filtering water have been delivered in recent days.

Constantin Domnin, who is with the Khabarovsk city water supply company, says the carbon is very absorbent, and is added straight into the water. The city cleansing system is constructed in such a way that the carbon breaks down the benzene and leaves it as a kind of sediment.

Mr. Domnin says it is not clear if the filtering will be enough to deal with the spill, and the city is prepared to turn off the drinking water supply as happened for five days in the Chinese city of Harbin recently.

One city resident expressed concern about the situation. "We are worried because it is about water," she says, adding that she has decided to send her daughter away for the time being.

Environmentalists warn that the region could suffer lasting effects from the spill, including depleted fishing stocks and other ecological damage.

They say the best way to completely dispose of the cancer-causing benzene is through evaporation.

But this will not happen soon as the rivers of the region are beginning to freeze, something that also accounts for the slow movement of the spill.

China's government recently apologized to Russia for the situation, although Chinese authorities were criticized for the delay in acknowledging that an explosion caused nearly 100 tons of benzene to pour into a nearby river.