Water supplies return to Lanzhou after benzene spill, but residents are wary

Authorities warn that 'danger is not yet over' and benzene contamination could occur again

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 6:13am

Water supplies returned to normal in the western city of Lanzhou yesterday, but the city government warned residents there was a "danger" of more interruptions in future.

"The danger is not over yet," officials said in a statement released in the name of the Lanzhou emergency taskforce.

On Friday, 2.4 million residents in the capital of Gansu province were warned by the government not to use tap water after tests showed excessive levels of carcinogenic benzene in the city's water supply.

[The water] still has a strange smell. I won't drink it. I won't even touch it
Lanzhou resident

Residents reacted cautiously to the resumption of water and refused to use it directly from the tap even though the government announced that readings of water quality had returned to within national safety standards.

"I don't believe a single thing they [the government] say about the water, and I am not using tap water," said a public servant who declined to be named.

"The water smells less strong than it did in March, but it still has a strange smell. I won't drink it. I won't even touch it."

Tests on Friday showed benzene levels had reached 200 micrograms per litre - 20 times the national safety standard.

The man said he had installed water filters in his home a long time ago, and that his family uses bottled water for washing and brushing teeth.

The water supply firm, a joint venture of the Lanzhou government and Veolia Water of France, started replacing a corroded pipe on Sunday. The project could take 20 to 30 days to complete, The Beijing News reported.

The faulty pipe is made of reinforced concrete and went into use in the 1950s. Material used to fill the gaps where one section joined the next, added to prevent leaking, had corroded over time.

The new ductile iron pipe can withstand greater corrosion and even earthquakes. Several oil pipes run beneath the main pipe of the water plant.

The taskforce statement said there was no back-up to the city's only source of water. It added that the water pressure would be decreased while pipes were being replaced to ensure there would be no accidents that could disrupt supply.

Wang Jinsheng, a professor at Beijing Normal University and member of the emergency response team, said benzene, a natural constituent of petroleum, could have entered the water supply from an underground oil leak caused by an explosion at a petroleum plant in 1987.