As a city in western China fights severe benzene contamination, analysts say it is one more sign of the country's challenges with tap water quality.
Residents in the Lanzhou "rushed to buy bottled water [on April 11] after authorities said the city's drinking water contained levels of benzene, a cancer-inducing chemical, standing at 20 times above national safety levels," Reuters reported.
The city worked to mitigate the threat, the report said. "Lanzhou has shut down the contaminated water supply pipe and deployed activated carbon to absorb the benzene," local authorities said in a statement, per Reuters.
The water utility quickly figured out the source of the contamination. "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," Lanzhou Veolia Water said in a statement.
The state media said city officials blamed a leaky oil pipeline owned by a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation, BBC News reported.
Lanzhou Veolia is majority-owned by the city government. The French company Veolia Environnement holds a 45-percent stake, Reuters said.
The big picture: "The scare has once again raised concerns over China's environmental safety record," the report said.
"Last year, a ruptured oil pipeline caused explosions in the eastern city of Qingdao, killing 62 people. And in January 2012, toxic cadmium and other waste from factories contaminated water supplies serving millions of people in the south western region of Guangxi," the report said.
In the U.S., the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for benzene is 0.005 milligrams per Liter (mg/L) or 5 parts per billion (ppb), according to the EPA.
China faces an uphill battle when it comes to water quality.
"For visitors, China’s water problem becomes apparent upon entering the hotel room. The smell of a polluted river might emanate from the showerhead. Need to quench your thirst? The drip from the tap is rarely potable. Can you trust the bottled water? Many Chinese don’t," the New York Times reported.
"Measured by the government’s own standards, more than half of the country’s largest lakes and reservoirs were so contaminated in 2011 that they were unsuitable for human consumption," the report said.
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