By Michael Ardaiolo
Photo by Caixin
In 2009, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development conducted a survey of 4000 city water supply plants to gauge if they were meeting national standards for water quality and safety. The results were never released to the public. The number of failed plants was thought to be about 25%. Recently, sources close to the governmental department responsible for the survey are saying that the actual number is closer to 50%. Caixin Magazine reports that the chief scientist at the Ministry, Song Lanhe, refused to rule out or confirm the estimate.
He also said, “the situation has yet to improve.”
Unsafe levels of organic compounds and heavy metal ions are thought to exist in the current water supply.
The Caixin Magazine report, “The Dirty Truth about Water Quality,” continues:
The 2009 development ministry survey linked poor water quality with high levels of organic compounds in the country’s sources of surface water, the major supplier for urban water plants.
“One day or two, even one year or two, won’t show the damage,” said Wang Zhansheng, environmental professor at Tsinghua University and a leading expert on water issues. “But high levels of organic compounds will accumulate in the human body and could lead to mutations and chronic diseases, including cancer.”
There are, however, new water quality regulations on the horizon. As China is quickly urbanizing, most local governments are prioritizing consistent supply over quality control. This has led to short cuts and deficiencies in the water network systems, from poor pipe materials and construction to the failure to modernize the water treatment processes. The new regulations will increase the monitored water quality parameters from 15 to 106. If implemented correctly, these standards will provide water purity on the same level as the European Union, home to the most stringent water regulations in the world. Yet the lack of punitive measures accompanying the new set of laws remains worrisome.
Microbloggers on Sina Weibo are not taking the news lying down. According to the Sina News site, over a million users forwarded the news of the failed water plants. The topic “自来水合格率仅50%” (“water pass rate was 50%”) has more than 950,000 participants. Does online unrest translate to actual civil unrest? Water supply concern is a unifying, protest-worthy topic.