The Songhua River flows north out of the Changbai Mountains, cutting across the Manchurian Plain of northern China. As China’s northernmost river system, the Songhua is an important artery in transporting agricultural products grown on the plain. On its northward course, the river winds its way past Harbin, the capital of China’s Heilongjiang Province, where it provides another lifeline. As much as 80 percent of the city’s public water supply comes directly from the river. That supply was cut off after an explosion at a petrochemical plant dumped 100 tons of benzene and other harmful chemicals into the river on November 13, 2005. As the chemical slick reached the city, officials turned off water supplies to prevent illness until the chemicals passed. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the primary pollutant, benzene, is a clear liquid that has a strong smell. It is highly flammable and can affect the nervous and immune systems in the short term or cause cancer after long-term exposure. The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10 micrograms of benzene be permitted in each liter of drinking water. The Chinese industrial accident put about 100 times that amount into the Songhua. Though the chemical can be cleaned from the water, benzene evaporates quickly on its own or it may be degraded by microbes in the water. NASA image by Robert Simmon, based on Landsat-7 data provided by the UMD Global Land Cover Facility. Text excerpted from NASA’s Earth Observatory website. Pollution is another huge problem contributing to the larger crisis at hand. Over half of China’s population, about 700 million people and 11 percent of the world’s, only have access to drinking water of a quality below World Health Organization standards (WHO). The water is contaminated by a combination of industrial pollution and human and animal waste. The lack of clean water for animals creates the threat of disease as livestock take in all types of pollutants and microbes. The disease is likely to pass from poultry to pigs to humans, and ultimately, the threat of Avian Bird Flu and similar diseases become very grave.