State Responsibility for Transboundary Ecological Damage: The Case of the Chinese Benzole Spill

18 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2006

See all articles by Stefan Kirchner

Stefan Kirchner

University of Lapland, Arctic Centre

Date Written: December 22, 2005


In the afternoon of 22 December 2005 the recent spill of 100 tons of benzole in China has reached the Russian city of Chabarovsk on the Amur River. Now is the population of this city of 600,000 facing contaminated drinking water and a severe damage to the environment. Due to the fact that many houses in the region are heated through a centralized heating system which uses centrally heated water to warm buildings, local authorities, faced with either pumping the contaminated water into every house or having the population of the Siberian city freeze at temperatures around -26 degrees Centigrade might be forced to choose the latter option. The low temperatures not only slow down the flow of the Amur River but also binds the benzole in the ice, which means that Chabarovsk and the entire region might face environmental disaster as late as spring when the ice will be melting, releasing the poisonous substances. The Chinese government's carelessness regarding the environment therefore hardly comes as a surprise and given the current nationalistic undertone in China, neither does the fact that China fails to care about the environment damaged abroad. According to news reports, China has somewhat supported Russia in the construction of the aforementioned dams, yet given the potentially disastrous effect of the spill on Russia's environment and the life of hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens, this support appears to be merely a drop in the ocean.

Not exactly a champion of the environmental cause herself, Russia could do a lot both for the environment and for Russia's standing in the world by taking legal action against China over the damage caused by China. In this article we will assess whether Russian claims for damages against China can be successful.

Keywords: International law, public international law, environment

JEL Classification: K32, K33, O33, Q25, R52

Suggested Citation

Kirchner, Stefan, State Responsibility for Transboundary Ecological Damage: The Case of the Chinese Benzole Spill (December 22, 2005). Available at SSRN: or

Stefan Kirchner (Contact Author)

University of Lapland, Arctic Centre ( email )

P.O. Box 122
Rovaniemi, Lapland 96101
+358404844001 (Phone)


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