Oil company blamed for toxic tap water in China

Apr 12, 2014
Residents still wait for water in the northern Chinese city of Harbin, 27 November 2005, after a massive benzene spill on the Songhua river passed through the city

A Chinese oil giant was to blame for a toxic leak that contaminated tap water in a northwestern city, leading panicked residents to clear stores of bottled water, state media said Saturday.

Tests conducted on Thursday and Friday showed that in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, had as much as 200 micrograms of the toxic chemical benzene per litre—20 times the national limit—the official Xinhua news agency said, citing local environment authorities.

A subsidiary of China's largest oil company, China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), was to blame after leaked from its pipeline into the source for a local plant, Xinhua reported Saturday.

The leak came from a Lanzhou Petrochemical pipeline and led to the hazardous levels of benzene in the city's tap water, Xinhua said, citing a local environment official.

Benzene is an aromatic, colourless liquid and a basic raw material used in the petrochemical industry. Human exposure to the chemical increases the risk of cancer and other illnesses.

Investigators found crude oil in soil along a duct between two water works owned by Veolia Water, a joint Sino-French venture and the sole water supplier for urban Lanzhou, Xinhua reported.

The environment official said the leak had been located, and repairs were under way.

The report did not say whether any action would be taken against CNPC.

Part of the city suspended its tapwater supply and residents hurried to supermarkets to snap up after the excessive levels of benzene were reported Friday.

Stores and supermarkets ran out of water and many people complained of thirst, Xinhua said, with fire engines delivering emergency supplies to downtown neighbourhoods.

By 11:00 am Saturday (0300 GMT), benzene levels were confirmed safe at five out of the six tap water monitoring sites in Lanzhou, the agency said.

Many waterways in China have suffered heavy contamination of toxic waste from factories and farms—pollution blamed on more than three decades of rapid economic growth and lax enforcement of environmental protection laws.

In one serious environmental scandal in January 2012, factories contaminated water supplies serving millions of people with toxic cadmium and other waste in the southwestern city of Guangxi.

Explore further: Pact with devil? California farmers use oil firms' water

Related Stories

Dangerous chemicals found in south China river

Jul 06, 2013

(AP)—Residents and water plants along a river in southern China that is used as a drinking source have been warned not to use the river's water after authorities detected excessive amounts of two dangerous chemicals.

Yangtze river pollution sparks panic in China

Feb 08, 2012

A cargo ship spilled acid into China's longest river last week, contaminating tap supplies and sparking a run on bottled water in eastern China, the government and state media said.

Toxic water scandal hits Italian region

Mar 28, 2014

An Italian official was forced Friday to reassure residents their water is safe to drink, after tests showed that toxic waste had leaked into the supply in the central region of Abruzzo.

Floods wash chemical barrels into China river

Jul 29, 2010

Floodwaters have washed 3,000 barrels of explosive chemicals into a major waterway in northeastern China, state media said Thursday, much more than originally reported.

China hit by new flood of dead pigs in river

Mar 19, 2014

Chinese authorities have found 157 dead pigs in a river, state media said Wednesday, underscoring the country's food safety problems a year after 16,000 carcasses were discovered in Shanghai's main waterway.

Recommended for you

Gimmicks and technology: California learns to save water

Jul 03, 2015

Billboards and TV commercials, living room visits, guess-your-water-use booths, and awards for water stinginess—a wealthy swath of Orange County that once had one of the worst records for water conservation ...

Cities, regions call for 'robust' world climate pact

Jul 03, 2015

Thousands of cities, provinces and states from around the world urged national governments on Thursday to deliver a "robust, binding, equitable and universal" planet-saving climate pact in December.

Will climate change put mussels off the menu?

Jul 03, 2015

Climate change models predict that sea temperatures will rise significantly, including in the tropics. In these areas, rainfall is also predicted to increase, reducing the salt concentration of the surface ...

As nations dither, cities pick up climate slack

Jul 02, 2015

Their national governments hamstrung by domestic politics, stretched budgets and diplomatic inertia, many cities and provinces have taken a leading role—driven by necessity—in efforts to arrest galloping ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2014
I'm sure China is just as captive to its oil billionaires as our supposedly "liberal" President and Congress that continues to support more oil and gas exploration and make half hearted attempts to encourage alternative energy. So no, there will be nothing but perhaps a token fine for the oil company. Nobody wealthy will go to jail, poor people will die, and life goes on as usual.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2014
Soon they will have no-one fit enough for the Red Army.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.