Hunan villagers refuse to drink tap water deemed 'safe'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 March, 2013, 3:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 March, 2013, 4:24pm

Clean, unpolluted water has become an increasingly scarce resource in many parts of China, but lately so has trust.

About 20,000 residents from the town of Changshou in Hunan province’s Pingjiang county have refused to drink local tap water for years despite quality control tests showing no evidence of contamination, the People’s Daily reported on Monday.

Mountain spring water has become the source of choice for many residents in recent years. They believe tap water is too polluted to drink, cook, bathe and even clean with, because a local river is being polluted by a gold mine upstream.

“We do not use any tap water for consumption. Everybody says the groundwater is polluted,” said a teahouse-owner surnamed Lu. Her kitchen is filled with six large vats of spring water. Each tank of water costs about three yuan (HK$3.75) and lasts a family of five about three to four days.

Officials from the Changshou waterworks office rejected allegations of water contamination. They say the town’s water quality has consistently met national standards and believe tap water is safe for drinking. A few villagers interviewed by the state newspaper also said they didn’t find any problems with tap water and regularly drank from them. 

Changshou Mayor Yin Youxiang, in an effort to allay concerns about water pollution, said he drinks tap water himself. He believed people just prefer spring water because of its taste.

"Compared with tap water, spring water tastes better and the people of Changshou have had a long-time habit of drinking it," he said.

According to Wu Jinan, deputy director of the Pingjiang Environmental Protection Bureau, the source of the county’s groundwater comes from Miluo River. The stream passes Pingjiang and empties into Dongting Lake in Miluo city about 400 kilometres downstream. In the past, many small businesses were operating mines in the area.

“By 2008, almost all small industrial businesses have been shut down and only one gold mine is still in operation. But they have met all pollution and emissions standards,” said Wu.

He Peiyu, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the fears over tap water were a trust issue. He blamed poor communication by the government that has led to a loss of credibilty among residents. 

“People are not convinced, and there are no news channels between officials and the people,” he told the People’s Daily. “The government needs to actively work on reconstructing its own credibility problems, clarify its intentions and identify counter-measures.”

In China, water pollution is so severe that close to 70 per cent of the mainland’s lakes and rivers and more than 90 per cent of groundwater in urban areas are too contaminated for even animals to drink from, said a recent report.

In a seperate report, about 40 per cent of sites the national Ministry of Environmental Protection has been monitoring contained water deemed unsafe for human consumption, despite multibillion-dollar clean-up efforts by the government.