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80 Percent Of Water From Underground Wells In China Not Fit To Drink

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More than 80 percent of China's water from underground wells is not suitable for drinking or even bathing, a new study found.

According to a new statistical study, underground wells, mostly in Central and Northern China are overly exposed to contaminants from industrial factories and farming.

The study tested 2,103 underground wells and found that 32.9 percent of the tested wells had Grade 4 quality water that is only fit for industrial uses. Additionally, about 47.3 percent even have Grade 5 quality, which means that contaminants like fluoride, manganese and compounds used in fungicides are present in the water.

With the worsening air pollution plaguing the country, Chinese residents are extremely concerned about their health.

Agricultural resource expert from the national legislature Zheng Yuhong said that due to the pressure to solve environmental pollution, underground water pollution was left out of the equation. In the report, it was stated that about 400 out of 600 cities in China use groundwater as their source of drinking water.

The Chinese government knows that they have an underground water problem - they are over-used and highly contaminated. Along with rising economic standards and improving standard of living, China's water use significantly rose from 57 billion cubic meters (2 trillion cubic feet) in the 1970s to 110 billion cubic meters (3.9 trillion cubic feet) in 2009. This has led them to create a plan to limit the use of underground water.

In order to minimize risk of contamination, Zheng recommended that a groundwater monitoring system must be established along with strict control of urban groundwater pollution.

Greenpeace East Asia toxics campaign manager lauds the Chinese government for taking necessary steps to address the problem.

University of East Anglia's Professor Dabo Guan said that the recent study highlights the severity of the water pollution in China.

"People in the cities, they see air pollution every day, so it creates a huge pressure from the public. But in the cities, people don't see how bad the water pollution is," said Guan. "They don't have the same sense."

Is There Still A Clean Water Source For Chinese Residents?

The study only tested waters near the surface, while cities source out their water from hundreds to thousands of feet deeper, according to Ma Jun an environmentalist and director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

"Fewer and fewer cities are using heavily polluted shallow-depth underground water," said Ma. "Most are digging deep wells for drinking. This is a very important distinction that must be made."

Department of Water Resources Director Chen Mingzhong echoes Ma's observations. Chen said in a news conference that household water is still safe for use because it is sourced out from deep reservoirs that are properly treated.

"The quality of drinking water is good overall," said Chen.

Guan, however, said that digging deeper for clean water is only creating more problems by stressing out the capacity of deep aquifers.

Contaminated water is not limited to China only. UNICEF said that it is becoming a global problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Based on their data, about 1.8 billion people consume E.coli contaminated water. The agency says that contamination is primarily due to poor sanitation practices coupled with the effects of climate change.

Photo: Yun Huang Yong | Flickr

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