Smog is often regarded as the main indicator of China’s pollution problem, but a recent study highlights another worrying issue: over 80 per cent of the well water tested is contaminated. These 2,103 underground wells provide water for country dwellers and villagers, but the data showed they are not safe for bathing or drinking.
Water pollution is not a new issue in China. Back in 2011, the Ministry of Environmental Protection enacted a strategy that was supposed to prevent underground water pollution by 2020. They planned to improve regulations and implement them through law enforcement and public education, as well as strengthen water management. A 2014 report revealed those objectives had not yet been achieved, as about half of 2,071 wells “had quite poor water quality” and 36 per cent on top of that were described as “extremely poor.”
The recent study doesn’t provide any new hope. The contamination found is likely due to industry and agriculture pollution. Chemicals such as manganese, fluoride, and triazoles were detected in the tested wells. 32.9 per cent were described as Grade 4, which means they’re only safe to be used in industrial processes, and an added 47.3 were Grade 5, which means they are even less safe for use.
Professor Dabo Guan of the University of East Anglia said, “People in the cities, they see air pollution every day, so it creates huge pressure from the public. But in the cities, people don’t see how bad the water pollution is. From my point of view, this shows how water is the biggest environmental issue in China.”
Director of Beijing’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs Ma Jun noted that the water tested was mainly found in shallower underground wells, which are not used for drinking water in the cities. Rather, cities typically receive water from deep reservoirs. Yet villagers were still drawing water from wells that were tested. It remains to be seen whether the 2011 plan has had any effect, or whether officials need to rethink their approach to water pollution.