A source recently told Daily NK that toxic substances leaked from Ganggye Chemical Factory (Factory 361) in Ganggye, Chagang Province, have likely polluted the Changja River, which flows from Yongnim through Manpo to Wiwon. North Korean authorities have reportedly launched an investigation into the matter. 

In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Tuesday, the source, who is based in Chagang Province, said that dead fish have been seen floating down the Changja River since late October, and that local residents reported the matter to local authorities. 

Ganggye Chemical Factory began full-fledged operations on Party Foundation Day (Oct. 10), and signs suggesting that the factory was polluting the river began to emerge soon after. 

It remains unclear what exactly the factory leaked into the river, but the source claimed that if it can kill large numbers of fish, it can also harm humans.

Ganggye Chemical Factory is disguised as a facility for the production of paints and varnish. In reality, however, it is a munitions factory producing chemical weapons.

The factory operates under the Second Economic Committee’s Fifth Machine Industry Bureau. It reportedly produces lethal nerve agents along with blister agents that irritate or inflame the skin, eyes or mucous membranes.

Ever since reports of pollution in the river emerged, local authorities have begun scrambling to determine the cause and come up with solutions. They reportedly blocked all drainage facilities flowing into the Changja River and inspected waste water processing facilities for problems. Repair work is apparently now underway on purification facilities.

Moreover, North Korean authorities are reportedly telling local residents not to talk about the pollution in the river to prevent rumors from spreading. 

chagang food shortages signs
A train can be seen travelling in an area of Chagang Province near the Sino-North Korean border. / Image: Daily NK

The authorities may be concerned that if word leaks about toxic chemicals from a factory producing chemical weapons polluting the nearby environment, North Korea would come under international criticism.

“The inminban and local police are quietly trying to determine if there are people who ate fish from the river,” said the source, using a term referring to North Korea’s lowest administrative unit. “The Ministry of Social Security is currently stopping people from doing laundry [in the river] or taking water [from the river] for farming in locations near the Ganggye Chemical Factory.”

So far, nobody has complained of unusual symptoms after eating fish from the river, according to the source.

Locals, however, are not hiding their unease about the situation. Moreover, there had been many cases of relatively young locals dying of disease in Ganggye. There are many munitions factories disguised as civilian facilities concentrated in the city, including the Ganggye General Machine Plant, the Ganggye General Tractor Plant and the February 8 General Machine Factory.

“People have to be careful about expressing concerns since the authorities have warned us not to talk about what happened,” the source said. “But 10 years ago, polluted water leaked from a factory and killed everything in the river.”

He added: “With that [situation appearing to be] happening again, friends and relatives are telling each other they are very uneasy.” 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Jang Seul Gi is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.