Thousands in Wuhan see taps shut for a day amid 'stinky water' contamination

Officials investigate whether pollution, causing unsafe levels of ammonia and nitrogen, is coming from Yangtze

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 4:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 5:17pm

Hundreds of thousands of residents were affected as Wuhan suspended three water plants after detecting high levels of pollutants in the drinking water, just days after a benzene scare in a neighbouring province.

The authorities in Wuhan, Hubei province, found that the water contained ammonia and nitrogen exceeding the national safety standard, but the exact figures were not revealed. Excessive ammonia and nitrogen would cause tap water to smell bad, an environment protection bureau official said.

The Changjiang Times newspaper said the incident affected more than 300,000 residents in a 260 square kilometre area, while water supply to more than 100 food production factories were suspended as well.

The official, who chose not to be named, said they were investigating whether the pollution was coming from the Yangtze River, which along with its tributaries supply hundreds of mainland cities with water.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that the source is outside Wuhan. The provincial environmental authorities have sent four inspection teams to the upper reaches of the Yangtze,” he said.

The Wuhan city government announced on Weibo today that one plant in Baihezui had resumed operations this morning, along with the Guomian plant in Hanyang, which restarted supplies at 10.30am.

But another, Yushidun in Dongxihu district, remained closed due to water source contamination.

The bureau official said the pollutants usually came from residential sewage, but the exact cause of the recent contamination was unclear.

An inconvenienced resident in Dongxihu said the water supply stopped on Wednesday evening. This morning the tap started flowing again, though with weak water pressure, he said.

“This is quite rare. We have not been bothered by a tap water suspension for years,” he said.

But the resident said he was not worried because the regional water supply was “ample”. “The Yangtze River flows fast … Pollutants will likely be washed away [by the currents] soon,” he said.

This comes days after benzene was found in the tap water of Lanzhou, Gansu province, on April 10, forcing the city of 3.6 million people to turn off supplies in one district. Other residents were warned not to drink tap water for a day and the incident caused panic-buying of bottled water.

The chairman of the city’s main water supplier, Lanzhou Veolia Water Company, has apologised for the incident. The company is partly owned by a subsidiary of French utility Veolia Environment.

Chairman Yao Xin “bowed and expressed his apology” at a news conference organised by the Lanzhou government, Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Reuters