Beijing couple's tap water protest goes down the plughole

Husband and wife change their minds after dismissing the quality of the capital's supply

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 5:07am

A Beijing couple who said last week that they had not drunk tap water for two decades because of health and safety concerns told state media yesterday that the quality of the capital's drinking water was good and up to international standards.

Zhao Tianhong , a veterinarian by training who is now a water expert with the Beijing Health Care Association, told China News Service that her rejection of tap water was a personal choice and she had not encouraged all residents to buy expensive bottled water.

In an interview with Southern Weekly last week, Zhao, 58, said that she and her husband had been drinking expensive bottled waters, such as Evian, since 1993 because they had lost confidence in the quality of Beijing's tap water.

She said her own tests last year had found that nitrate levels exceeded nine micrograms per litre, almost breaching the national standard.

"We probably know more about drinking water than any other family in Beijing," she told the newspaper. The report made headlines on nearly all major internet portals on the mainland and prompted widespread concern about the safety of tap water in big cities, with Beijing's municipal government coming under particularly heavy fire.

Li Fuxing , Zhao's 73-year-old husband, told China News Service yesterday that Beijing's tap water was not a problem. "It is the best in China in terms of quality and safety," he said in a video. "It is even as good as international standards."

Some people speculated that the couple had been forced to eat their own words after coming under government pressure.

Some microbloggers said Zhao and Li should stick to their guns and reveal more details about the situation if it was as serious as they had said earlier.

Others suspected Zhao and Li were just acting as promoters for some big manufacturers of bottled water.

In the Southern Weekly report, Zhao recommended several domestic mineral water brands, such as Kunlunshan, Huoshanyan and Quanyangquan.

Beijing Water Group released a statement to Beijing Evening News yesterday saying the capital's tap water was the highest quality to be found in any mainland city.

The municipal government spent an astronomical sum of money to improve water quality before the Olympic Games in 2008, with equipment imported from countries including Germany, France and the US.

The mainland's farmers are far more exposed to problematic drinking water than those living in the cities, where water quality is closely monitored.