Canadian frozen food company McCain Foods has temporarily shut down operations in China's northeast city of Harbin because of poisoned water supplies, the AFP news agency reported, citing workers at the plant.

McCain Foods, the world's largest manufacturer of frozen French fries, halted work at its Harbin plant because there was not enough water in the city, a worker at the factory told AFP.

"We've sent the workers home because of the water stoppage," said a woman who picked up the phone. "There's only a few of us left here."

A slick of carcinogenic benzene, caused by an explosion at a chemical plant in neighboring Jilin province on November 13, reached the outskirts of Harbin in the early hours of Thursday, the local government said.

The benzene spilled into the Songhua river, which is the major water source for Harbin's 3.8m urban residents, and took 11 days to flow the 380 kilometres to Harbin.