Chinese rush for bottled drinks after benzene pollutes tapwater

Posted in: Global Water News, Water Contamination
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Article courtesy of Stian Reklev, Kathy Chen, Ben Blanchard,  Michael Martina, and Geert De Clercq in Paris| April 11, 2014 | Reuters | Shared as educational material

BEIJING/PARIS, April 11 (Reuters) – Residents in the Chinese city of Lanzhou rushed to buy bottled drinks on Friday after authorities said benzene, a cancer-inducing chemical, had been found in tap water at 20 times above national safety levels.

The water supply was turned off in one district, and   officials warned citizens not to drink tap water for the next 24  hours.

“Lanzhou has shut down the contaminated water supply pipe  and deployed activated carbon to absorb the benzene,” local  authorities said in a statement.

The water supply company, Lanzhou Veolia Water Co, is  majority-owned by the city government, with Veolia China, a unit  of French firm Veolia Environnement, holding a  45-percent stake.

“Initial investigation showed the high levels of benzene  were caused by industrial contamination at one of the two  culverts that transfer raw water from a sedimentation plant to  the water treatment plant,” Veolia said in a statement.

Authorities said they found 200 micrograms of benzene per  litre of water. The national safety standard is 10 micrograms.

Lanzhou, a heavily industrialized city of 3.6 million people  in the northwestern province of Gansu, ranks among China’s most  polluted centers.

Preliminary inspection showed the benzene came from   chemical plants, the local government said on its website,  although no culprit was named. The environmental bureau is  carrying out further investigations.

Operation of the polluted culverts has been suspended,  Veolia said.

Lanzhou Veolia Water was working to redirect to its water  treatment plant water which usually goes to a power plant, which  should restore normal supply as soon as possible, Veolia said.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said an initial  investigation had found problems in a three-km (two-mile)  channel which links a plant that pre-processes the water and the  plant that supplies the city’s water.

Closure of that channel would halve Lanzhou’s water supply,  the report quoted Tian Hong, head of Lanzhou’s water quality  monitoring station, as saying.

Fire engines would carry water to affected areas, it added.


Pictures circulating widely on Chinese Internet sites showed  long lines at grocery stores where people were loading up on  anything drinkable. Other images showed barren shelves cleared  of bottled water.

“It’s not just bottled water that is gone. Even all the beer  and milk has been snatched up,” one resident wrote on the  Twitter-like service Weibo.

The Yellow River, which runs through Lanzhou, has not been  contaminated, Xinhua said.

Xinhua said it was the second water-related incident in  Lanzhou in as many months.

In March, residents reported a strange odor when they  turned on their taps. It was found to be a high concentration of  ammonia, but was still within national limits.

In 2005, water supplies to the northeastern city of Harbin  were cut off after an explosion at a chemical plant spilled  benzene into the Songhua River, pushing levels to more than 100  times safe limits.     (Reporting by Stian Reklev, Kathy Chen, Ben Blanchard and  Michael Martina in China and Geert De Clercq in Paris; Editing  by Andrew Roche)


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