The 2005 Jilin Chemical Plant explosion was a series of explosions that occurred on November 13, 2005 at the Number 101 Petrochemical Plant in Jilin City, located in Jilin City Province China. The chemical plant’s explosions occurred for over an hour and affected hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Jilin province and the rest of [A]asia. The blast and the subsequent fire killed at least six people and injured around 70 people, according to official reports.

The explosion eventually created an 80 km long toxic chemical slick made up of benzene,nitrobenzene, and aniline. The chemical slick made its way up the Songhua River, affecting large parts of China and eventually made its through the Amur River [and] [where it] made its way through Russia.

Background Information

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The No. 101 Jilin Chemical plant was located in Jilin CIty in Jilin Province, China, around 380 kilometers up river from Harbin City(the Capital of Heilongjang province and the the tenth largest city in China). The plant was located next to the Songhua River, which is the main water source for much of northeastern China, including Jilin and Harbin. The Songhua River eventually runs into the Amur River which flows through southern Russia.

The Jilin Chemical Plant itself was the first major, large scale chemical industry base to be built in China, producing chemicals such as benzene, nitrobenzene, and aniline; which are often used in the production of different plastics.7


The initial explosion happened on November 13, 2005. Around noon on the day of the blast a blockage occurred in the chemical[s] plant’s processing nitration tower for the the production of benzene. A plant worker attempted to clear the blockage on his own, but was unsuccessful.3 The blockage and the worker[']s inability to clear the blockage eventually le[a]d to an explosion at 1:40pm.

The plant[']s initial explosion was so powerful that they shattered windows that were at least 100 to 200 meters way from the chemical plants. Explosions continued throughout the plant for about and hour and eventually lead to a large scale fire at the plants. The fire was eventually put out in the early morning of November 14,6 by around three hundred firefighters.

After the blast and the resulting fire was put out at the chemical plant, Jilin Petrochemicals denied that the Songhua River has been polluted by spilled chemical from the plant. The local Jilin officials also claimed that as a result of the explosions and resulting fire had not released any toxic chemicals into the air, but that the fire had burned all the chemicals and that it had only produced carbon dioxide and water.2

There were initial worries that the explosion may have been caused by a terrorist group[s], but it was later discovered that the explosion was not caused by terrorists and instead was [due to] operator error. 6
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After the explosion and resulting fire the residents of Jilin City did evacuate the city, not because they were warned to by the local government, but because they discovered what the actual situation of the chemical explosion was. Soon after the explosion occurred a large amount of yellow and dark smoke filled the sky around the city, [and] the smoke made it extremely difficult for the residents to breathe. By 4pm almost everyone that was able to met at the cities [city's] center and began leaving the city. But because the police blocked off city street[s] for emergency vehicles[; ][,]cars, taxies, and buses were unable to make there way through the city and greatly reduced the evacuation 9. Initially more then 30,000 residents of the city evacuated the city along with 12,000 university students 8, including 5,000 students form the Jilin Petrochemical College. But because residents were unable to use vehicles, large amount of the old and sick were left behind. Eventually 10,000 more residents had to be evacuated by the Chinese Government 9.

Shortly after the explosion and during the cities [city's] evacuation, electricity, water, heat, and all telecommunications were shout off, except for radio broadcasting. In the city all schools and business were closed and by 7pm [that not] almost no one had electricity. The communication that was being sent out by the Chinese government suggested that the city was safe and that only non-toxic carbon dioxide had been generated by the incident, despite the fact the sky above the city was still largely covered in thi[n][c]k yellow smoke 9.

Water Pollution

The day after the chemical plant explosion occurred[,] regular water supplies continued through Jilin City. However large amount of foam and water, that [which] were used to cool down the fire, and benzene from the air were combined and made there [their]way into the Songhua River through the cities [city's] sewer system. This chemical mixture made its way down the river, giving the water an irritating odor that could be smelled at the opening of the Qingyuan Bridge 9.

The problem of chemicals in the Songhua River was denied by government officials until four days after the explosion when they admitted that some 100 tons of chemicals, including benzene, nitrobenzene and other toxins [,] had made there way into the Songhua River. These chemicals were considered to be extremely dangerous to anyone that can [come] in contact with them, especially Benzene, which “is a carcinogenic chemical and even small doses in a river system can present health risks. Drinking liquids containing high levels of benzene can cause vomiting, irritation of the stomach, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, rapid heart rate, coma, and death.” 2

The spilled chemicals that entered the Songhua River created an 80km(50 mile) long toxic slick that made its way down the river. At one point the benzene levels in the slick were recorded to at 108 times higher then were allowed by national safety standards. The toxic slip passed through Jilin City and then made its way through several small cities before making its way into Hellongijang province and the city of Harbin . After passing through [H[harbin the toxic slip made is way into the Amur River at the mouth of the Songhua River, between the China and Russia border. The toxic slick made its was through several parts of southeastern Russia before making its way into the Pacific Ocean. 6

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From December 10 to the 16 the United Nations Environment Programme visited China in order to visit affected areas along the Songhua River and to discuss the incidents with local and national Chinese government officials. 3

Jilin Province

On November 13, the day of the explosion, the Jilin city water plant[s] was closed. Around the same time several hydroelectric plants upstream from Jilin began releasing extra water in an attempt to dilute any chemicals in the water. On November 15, Jilin stopped using water that came from the Songhua River and by November 18, all water supplies in Jilin were partially suspended. On November 23 water supplies in Jilin were eventually restored. 6

Heilongjiang Province

One of the largest cities that depends on water from the Songhua River for its water supply is Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, with more then three million residents. On November 21, the local Harbin government announced that local water supplies would be shut off for four day[s] for regular maintenance. The city also ordered that local bathhouses and car washes were to be closed, but did not say that it was linked to the explosion at Jilin. Some residents of Harbin claimed that their water had been shout off before the announcement and with no explanation as to why[,] many resident of Harbin began to panic, believing that the shut off could be related to a possible future earth quake [earthquake] or a terrorist attack that had poisoned the cities water supply. In their panic residents began buying large amount of water and other supplies, soon all train and plane tickets leaving the city were sold out. Meanwhile dead fish began to appear along the banks of the Songhua River, which further increased the fear of the Harbin Residents. 6 [INSUFFICIENT COMMUNICATION-LEADS TO PANIC, OVERREACTION]

Soon after the panic broke out through Harbin the government announced that the true cause of the water shout off was the explosion that occurred at the Jilin Chemical Plant. The government turned the water back on on November 23, to all residents to stuck up on water, because the chemical slick had no yet reached the city. School were eventually closed for a week and resident [s] began a voluntary evacuation of the city.

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The chemical slick reached Harbin on November 24, with nitrobenzene levels that were 16 times higher then the national safely levels and by November 25 the levels had increased to 33 times higher then the national safely levels. In response to the water crisis truck loads of water were brought in from surrounding cities. The Chinese military all began drilling ninety-five deep-water wells to help bring fresh water into the city.6 Fifteen local hospitals were also put on alert for possible victims of poisoning from the water. In the end 3.8 million people in Harbin were left with[] out a stable water source.

The wednesday following the explosion the vice governor of Jilin Province and Party secretary of Jilin went to Harbin to apologize to local residents for the incident and the inconvenience that it had caused them. The two along with a[t]delegation for the city of Jilin brought with them 71 tons of mineral water, to provide[d] drinkable water for the residents of Harbin. Finally Zeng Yukang apologized to Harbin residents on behalf of the China National Petroleum Corporation, the company the [that] runs the Jilin Chemical Plant.2 Water supplies in Harbin were eventually resumed on the evening of November 27.

Jilin and Harbin were not the only cities to be affected by the chemical slick, however they were the cities that had the largest number of people directly affected. The chemical slick also passed through the city of Jiamusi, but unlike Jilin and Harbin, Jiamusi relies more on underground water supplies then it does on water from the Songhua River.

The chemical slick continued down the Songhua River and eventually made its way into the Amur River and around December 16 the toxic slick made its was[y] it to Russia. The only major city in Russia to be affect by the toxic slick was the city of Khabarovsk, with a population of around 600,000. The slick had [become] significantly diluted by the time that it reached Russia, with toxic levels within the expectable range. Russia was still fairly well prepared for the toxic slick, with additional wells that were dug and instructing residents to stuck[stack] up on water supplies before the slick reached the city. 10

China attempted to do all that it could to protect Russia from the chemical slick. China sent several shipments of water purify[ing] materials and equipment to test for water purity. Russian ended up receiving six pieces of water quality test equipment and a 150 tons of activated carbon from China as a form of apology for the incident. 1



There were several controversies surrounding the explosion at the Jilin Chemical Plant. For [First?] was the reaction by the local Jilin government and the owners of the chemical plant. The Jilin government immediately after the incident denied that there had been any chemicals released into the air by the explosion; that the explosion had only produced carbon dioxide and water. The owners of the chemical plants [was] claimed that the plant had not leaked any chemicals in to the Songhua River. 2

The Harbin government also had several controversies surrounding its reaction to the chemical explosion and toxic slick that was heading to the city. The Harbin government initially claimed that it was shouting of [shutting off?]water for the city for maintenance. The Harbin government also sent out a notice the next day saying that there was an incident at Jilin and that polluted water may reach the city, so water will be shout off for four days. The inconsistency between the two reports lead to mass panic in the city of Harbin, with residents fearing that the cause could be a number of things.5

Inaccurate news reports

On the day of the explosion there was almost nothing in the news reports about the incident. The next day the news reports used interviews from the incident that were pre arraigned by the Jilin government. There were also reports that the news agencies were ordered not to report on the possible contamination of the Songhua River in order to prevent public chaos over the news.

When news reports were eventually released on the incident they tended to play down the severity of the incident or left out major incidents that happened after the explosion; such as [the fact that] around 3 pm on the day of the explosion at the Jilin Chemical Plant, large amount of people were fleeing the area around the plant. Police were trying to clear people out of the way from the front of the plant gate so that Jilin leaders could leave the plant. The police vehicles hit three pedestrians, two of the victims died at the scene and police pushed the bodies off the road and drove away from the scene. One of the victims was a local shop owner who was walking his [dog and], both he and his dog died. It is not know[n] what happened [what happened] to the tired victim.

The other media inaccuracy is that the media reported that the explosion was less powerful then it actually was. The official news reports reported that the glass from buildings was only blown out in buildings up to .12 miles away; but in reality it was more like .62 miles from the explosion. The explosion also did more then simply break the glass of the building like the media reported, [:]window frames were severely distorted, the steel bars that were on an iron gate nearly broke, and a piece a 441 pound piece of metal fell of the Qingyuan Bride over 1.2 miles from the plant. Also a women riding a a scooter near the bridge was struck and killed by a piece of iron sheeting that was launch into the air because of the blast.9

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The media also almost completely failed to report on the smaller cities and villages that were affected by the chemical slick. Almost all news reports about the slick focused on Harbin city; with a few reports on Russia. Almost no reports were made about Jilin City or other cities in the Jilin province.6

Central government retaliation

Three weeks after the Jilin explosion the Chinese government began to scramble to assign blame for the incident. The Chinese government warned that its would punish anyone who failed to co-operate and would punish those who were responsible for the delay in reporting about the incident. Eventually two major figures were forced to resign, the head of the environmental watchdog group and the head of the petrochemical company in charge of the Jilin Chemical Plant. Several weeks after the blast the vice-major of Jilin, Wang Wei, was found head[dead?] in his home. Wang was the one responsible for dealing with the aftermath of the explosion and was considered to the one that hide the chemical leakage. 4

Slow government reaction

One of the biggest controversies around the Jilin Chemical Plant explosion is the slow reaction that occurred after the events. It was several days before the chemical spill was release to the public, even though government officials were aware of the problem. And even when the problem was relieved the governments response was slow and ineffective, it was not until the disaster became more public that the government truly responded. The chemical spill has been compared to the SARSor bird flue epidemic, where the government ignored the problem or hide the true size of the incident. 5


1 - “2nd batch of water purifying materials offered to Russia”. 2005. China View.

2 - “Chinese Petrochemical Explosion Spills Toxics in Songhua River”. 2005. Environment News Service.

3 - “Chinese River Contamination resulting from a petrochemical explosion and toxic spill”
United Nations Environment Programme. china/#background

4 - “Chinese toxic blast official dead”. 2005. BBC News.

5 - Dan, Li. 2005. “China’s Cover up of Chemical Accident Unveiled”. The Epoch Times.

6 - “Jilin Chemical Plant explosions 2005”.

7 - Na, He. Yong, Wu. 2005. “Cause of Jilin Chemical Plant blast found”. China Daily.

8 - “No Toxic Substance Detected in Air After NE China Chemical Plant Blasts”. 2005. no_toxic_substance_detected_in_air_after_ne_china_chemical/index.html

9 - Rong, Xiao. 2005. “The Truth about the Explosion at the Jilin Chemical Plant Comes Out”.
The Epoch Times.

10 - “Toxic leak reaches Russian river”. 2005. BBC News.