Citizen buy bottled water at a supermarket in Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province, April 11, 2014. Tap water in downtown Lanzhou has been found to contain excessive levels of benzene, provincial authorities said on Friday. Tests carried out in the early hours of Friday showed that tap water contained 200 micrograms of benzene per liter, far exceeding the national limit of 10 micrograms per liter, according to the city's environmental protection office. Photo: Xinhua
The northwestern city of Lanzhou was hit with a drinking water crisis after excessive levels of benzene, 16 times the national limit, were found in the city's tap water. There has been a frenzy of purchasing bottled water by local residents.
The local government has been responding quickly and releasing information in a timely fashion. But the impact will go beyond the borders of the city, increasing public suspicion in government promises over environmental safety.
The Lanzhou water pollution incident could have been avoided. There have been water pollution crises in Harbin and Inner Mongolia in recent years. Just a month ago, the Lanzhou government denied the tap water was contaminated after people complained about a strange odor in the water that turned out to be the result of ammonia contamination "within normal limits." Those who spread the "rumor" have reportedly been "dealt with."
Even though it was really a rumor, the government could have raised the alarm and beefed up its water security measures.
Friday's crisis has indicated that a city's drinking water is prone to pollution incidents, and the local government might not have fulfilled its obligations to prevent them from happening.
The citizens are unsatisfied with the government's actions since a crisis has already taken place. If a city cannot guarantee its water security, people will wonder whether other crises lurk under the surface.
This is a sensitive time given that protests against chemical plants, especially PX projects, have already been going on in cities across the country.
The Chinese public has already been panicking about industrial pollution. People lack confidence in local governments' ability.
The drinking water supply has become highly marketized in many places of China. It is a challenge for authorities to make sure these firms do not seek profit beyond everything else.
The country's environmental problems have become intolerable. But in the meantime, the economy cannot stop its development. Environmental issues have become a quagmire where, however carefully it treads, the country may end up in the mud with every step.
Water safety must be better protected, and the environmental monitoring over chemical projects needs to be stricter. The authorities should try all means to prevent major pollution incidents. If any such incidents happen, harsh punishments should follow.
Environmental risks do exist in many cities. The authorities should not just deny rumors when the situation appears to be fine. Only concrete preventive measures can give the public confidence.Related report:
Lanzhou hit by chemical water scare
Oil leak blamed for water contamination in NW China city
Emergent measures taken to ensure safe water supply in Lanzhou