Friday 30th September 2016                 Change text size:

Drinking water in Chinese city contaminated by cancer-causing chemical



china water bottle by bd 914 via Flickr

Residents in Lanzhou, China, have flocked to supermarkets in a desperate bid to buy bottled water, after authorities warned the city’s drinking water contained high levels of a cancer-causing chemical.

It on Friday that the drinking water from Lanzhou’s tap supply contained 20 times national levels of benzene.  Authorities have pumped activated carbon into contaminated pipes, which will help mitigate the levels, in a bid to avoid catastrophe.

A government statement said, “Lanzhou has shut down the contaminated water supply pipe and deployed activated carbon to absorb the benzene”.

Lanzhou is one of China’s largest industrial cities, with a population of around 3.6m people. It is one of the country’s most polluted cities.

Benzene is a colourless chemical that is the 20th most used in Americ; it is used to make products such as plastic, lubricants and some pesticides.

The American Cancer Society warned that consumption of high levels of benzene could prove fatal. A statement on its website said, “Consuming foods or fluids contaminated with high levels of benzene can cause vomiting, stomach irritation, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, and rapid heart rate. In extreme cases, inhaling or swallowing very high levels of benzene can be deadly.”

Over a prolonged period, however, more subtle dosages of the chemical are linked to leukaemia and blood cell related cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil used in vehicle fuel and cigarette smoke.

The Lanzhou incident is expected to put further pressure on Chinese authorities, who have stepped up efforts to tackle major environmental problems in the country, including extreme levels of air pollution.

Image by bd 914 via Flickr

Further reading:

Invisible cities and flammable rivers: China’s pollution problem

Chinese coal pollution ‘responsible for 250,000 deaths’ in 2011

China: We are not prepared for climate change

£177bn bill to clean up China’s air pollution

Beijing issues first ‘orange’ pollution warning amid smog crisis


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