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Air pollution levels may be as scary as the Sars virus, but the prospect of having to drink, wash and bathe with bottled water could be more worrying.
Authorities must find a way tackle the problem of groundwater pollution urgently or face an acute shortage of clean water in future, a forceful editorial in the Beijing News said on Wednesday
Beijing’s official mouthpiece called for a “declaration of war” in the new Lunar Year on “unscrupulous enterprises” engaged in the illegal and often secretive discharge of untreated waste into waterways. It urged the public and netizens to help.
There has been speculation on microblogging site Sina Weibo recently about companies using high-pressure wells to pump chemical discharge directly into the ground and sometimes into underground caves.
A massive cadmium spillage in Guangxi province last January was allegedly caused by a mining company pumping chemical waste directly into underground caverns. Tap water supplies were shut off to nearby cities after more than 20 tonnes of toxic chemical seeped into the Longjiang river.
The editorial said local governments were only compounding the problem by upholding lax environmental regulations and shielding “superstar" companies, deemed too important, from punishment.
“The reason why groundwater pollution has long been ignored is that the vast majority of contamination cases occur in rural counties, where farmers lack the right to speak out,” it said.
The editorial said the fundamental problem lay in governance - or lack of it - and encouraged the public to “take action to investigate and expose any of those unscrupulous companies”. It also called on “the relevant parties” to encourage supervision and ensure citizen activist channels are unimpeded”.
Official estimates put the number of water pollution accidents in China at 1,700 a year. Close to 70 per cent of the mainland’s lakes and rivers and over 90 per cent of the groundwater in urban areas too contaminated for even animals to drink from.