Panic buying of bottled water

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2011, 12:00am


The southwestern city of Mianyang is scrambling to dispatch water to hundreds of thousands of residents whose drinking water has been polluted by a factory's ore residue.

Grocery stores and shopping malls in the city in Sichuan province have been cleared out of bottled water after the government issued a notice on Tuesday warning against drinking tap water.

Seventy per cent of the water supply for 300,000 residents in Mianyang's urban area comes from the Fu River, which was polluted on July 21 when toxic residue from the factory leached into it after flooding.

Two other water sources were not contaminated.

China's water standards allow for 0.1 grams of manganese per litre of water.

Mianyang officials warned that if the level reaches 2-5 grams per litre, it could cause diarrhoea, nausea and dizziness as a result of manganese poisoning.

The local government has sent 40 water tanks and 3,600 tonnes of safe water to heavily populated residential areas over the past two days and appealed to residents not to panic or to overstock on bottled water.

Health authorities have not received any reports of manganese poisoning, said Yuan Chengjun, director of the city's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

But worried residents have little confidence in the water supply returning to normal soon.

'I am glad that we went out and bought water immediately after hearing the news,' said Yu Jie, 36, a hotel employee.

'We bought 48 bottles of water for drinking and two large bottles for cooking. You can't find bottled water now at the supermarket.'

She said she planned to queue for government-provided water after work yesterday. 'There was a long queue this morning when I went to work,' she said.

To save water, she is not buying leafy vegetables to cut down on washing food.

The Mianyang government has warned of severe penalties for people who hoard bottled water or raise prices. The city has promised ample supply and said it has a stock of 100,000 boxes of water, 33,000 of which were sold in the last two days.

Ma Daofu, chief of Mianyang Environmental Protection Bureau, defended the government's release of water days after the residue washed into the river.

He said the bureau had been testing water after learning of the accident at the Xichuan Minjiang Electrolytic Manganese plant in Aba prefecture, but excessive levels of ammonia, nitrogen and manganese were not found in the Fu River until Monday afternoon.

'On Tuesday afternoon, the levels of ammonia and nitrogen were down, but manganese was still high. The city government issued the notice to ensure the safety of drinking water,' Ma said.

Ma said his bureau would increase testing.