Second Zijin mine spill in China hits export hub

BEIJING (Reuters) - Toxic waste from a copper mine spill has been washed downriver into Guangdong province, China’s main export hub, as scrutiny intensifies of the embattled mining company’s links to local government officials.

A second leak at Zijin Mining Group’s site in eastern Fujian province has now caused copper levels to soar two-thirds in the Guangdong section of the Ting river, threatening fish farmers’ livelihood, the China Daily said.

The eight-hour spill was the second in a month, after a much larger discharge that prompted authorities to order a halt to operations, pending thorough checks to the site.

Local officials said Zijin ignored orders to repair a breach in a tailings reservoir last year, according to a filing to stock market regulators.

The company’s head apologized on television. “The executives of our company and I have been in great remorse,” Zijin chairman Chen Jinghe was quoted as telling local Shanghang Television on Monday evening. “We’re willing to shoulder all responsibilities and will not have any complaints.”

A detailed report by the Economic Information Daily, affiliated to the state-run Xinhua agency, highlighted close ties to local government, with officials holding Zijin shares and many working for the company after leaving public service.

Citing Shanghang county’s finance department, the paper also said that in 2009 as much as 60 percent of local government revenues -- which hit 685 million yuan ($101.1 million) -- came from the company.

Three government officials were sacked following the leak, and the Securities Times reported on Tuesday that Zijin has said it will be investigated for information disclosure violations.

The July 3 discharge of more than 9,000 tonnes of wastewater killed thousands of fish and polluted the Ting river in Fujian province, on which 60,000 people depend for drinking water.

Tailings reservoirs are supposed to be lined so that water seeping out of waste ore, which may contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals, does not enter the local water supply.

Zijin had enjoyed a reputation as one of China’s premier mining firms, and has mining interests overseas.

But it has run into trouble with tailings dams before. Late in 2006, a dam breach at Zijin’s Shuiyindong mine in Guizhou province dumped cyanide-laced residue into a stream.

The local environmental bureau ordered an upgrade of tailings dam linings across the province after that incident, which forced the Shuiyindong mine to shut for four months.

($1=6.778 Yuan)

Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Lucy Hornby and Andrew Marshall