Doubts water data can prove safety of supply

By Xie Wenting Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-15 23:53:01


An employee from Beijing No.9 water company tests the water quality on January 7. Photo: CFP
An employee from Beijing No.9 water company tests the water quality on January 7. Photo: CFP

An official with Beijing Water Authority (BWA) said that from Tuesday, it started releasing quarterly data of water quality to reassure residents the  city's drinking water is safe.

Despite guarantees from BWA that tap water adheres to safe standards when it leaves the capital's pumping stations, it is still not safe to drink due to degradation in pipelines on the way to households.

Water resource experts have called for data to be released that accurately reflects the quality of water as it comes from residents' taps.

The data, which covers October to December 2012, includes 42 indices of quality when the water issues from the waterworks and seven indices for the quality measured from the pipe network in urban and rural areas.

This includes factors such as chlorine, nitrates and sedimentation.

"Unlike the air which is in a state of constant change, water quality is stable. So the quarterly release is enough," said a media officer, surnamed Yu, from the water authority.

"We want to publish this water data to let the public feel safe about their drinking water. Besides, delegates from the National People's Congress and members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference have demanded that we release the data over the years," said Yu.

The data was put on websites including that of the Beijing Waterworks Group and some district-level government websites like Changping and Pingu districts.

The release came after the recent heightened anxiety over the safety of Beijing water, triggered by an interview with a Beijing couple, Zhao Feihong and Li Fuxing, both water experts, who said they have only drunk mineral water instead of tap water for 20 years, and they also use it to cook food.

Zhao, a researcher with Beijing Healthcare Association's Drinking Water Committee, said that she will keep track of the data online to see how the situation changes over time.

"I drink mineral water because it's healthier than the tap water. Take nitrates as an example, good quality mineral water has less nitrates than tap water," said Zhao, who pointed out the water is safe in Beijing, but not as healthy as mineral water.

Yu stressed that the worry is unnecessary because both the water from the pumping station and tap water in people's households meets national standards. However, the tap water still cannot be drunk without first being boiled, because some pipes and taps do not fit the national health standards, he said.

"Beijing water can be said to be among the best in China. We are the first [place] to meet the national standard since 2006," said Yu.

"Besides, we have good technology and we examine more than 200 water quality indices while the national requirement is 106," he said.

Zhang Junfeng, founder of the NGO water resource watchdog Happy Water Journeys, said despite government reassurances that water is safe, residents do not feel the same way, so releasing this quarterly data will not help to assuage their fears. 

"Tap water in residents' households may be below the standard because of contamination during the pipe transportation. And there is a second pollution problem. For instance, water tanks on the roofs of some residential buildings may be a secondary source of pollution," noted Zhang. Some pipes are rusted and need to be cleaned regularly, he said.

According to Zhang, the government should provide the indices of water quality in residents' households and let the residents know what has happened in between to cause the degradation of the water.

Ma Jun, chief of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that the time frame for reporting the data is too long.

"The government needs to increase their public credibility on the testing report by introducing the supervision of a third party," he said.

So far the figures do not cover self-drilled community wells and small waterworks in rural areas of Beijing.

Qiu Yuhong, who uses a community well at his home in Haidian district, said most of his neighbors buy purified water, rather than use the well water.

"There's a lot of sediment when you boil it," he said.  

"But I don't care about the release of this data. What matters is what you put in your mouth," Qiu noted. 

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