Monday, October 8, 2012

China's Tap Water - Anything but safe!

Before you drink another glass of water in China - STOP!  Now ask yourself if you really know what you are about to put into your body.  Actually if you drink tap water in Beijing or Shanghai you will be consuming over 89 chemicals, elements, or compounds and only two of them are actually Hydrogen or Oxygen (H2O). Although the government may deny it, China holds the dishonor of having one of the top five worst pollution problems in the world, and with a growing population of 1.5 Billion people (both consumers and polluters), this fact is understandable.

According to lab reports from Tsinghua and BIT universities, they confirm that Beijing tap water contains dangerous and even carcinogenic levels of mercury, other heavy metals, and horrible levels of sulfides, sulfates, chlorides, chlorates, phosphates, and a myriad of other chemicals not found in most western water supply chains. Shanghai is even worse. And Chongqing is worse yet.  In fact, research by WHO and other NGOs indicates that Chinese residents who live within 5,000 meters of China's major rivers have cancer rates that are 300% higher than their peers who live further inland. And the situation is getting worse - not better!  According to a controversial report recently published by the McKinsey group, China's water pollution has increased 61% over the last five years, while almost all the other emerging market countries (except India) have managed to reduce their contamination levels.

On average, between 90% - 92% of all China's tap water is tainted and causing illness on a daily basis. The WHO estimates that 64% of all premature deaths in China are related to water-borne toxins consumed on a regular basis by a majority of the nation's population that cannot afford bottled water. Those visiting China regularly comment that China's water "smells strange" and "tastes bad".  Although visitors to China generally do not stay long to expose themself to great health risks, they almost all will meet "La Dudza" - the Chinese version of diahrea within their first days after arrival.  Those born and raised in China probably have already grown accustomed to the foul taste of the polluted and often over-chlorinated water, and probably think it is normal to smell and taste that way.

The Chinese government has an unusual way of dealing with water pollution. They will use more chemicals to neutralize the bad taste and yet other chemicals still to mask the variety of odors. Not a good nor safe policy for China's citizens. Actually, one worker at Beijing's water treatment center told me their priority is "clarity" not purity. So in fact, it appears that they just want the water to look clean, not necessarily be clean!  Since Chinese people don't get to vote their officials out of office in an election, I guess they will settle for clear water instead of clean water.  I guess one can easily be led to believe that if water looks clean it - it must be clean. Fortunately our friends at Tsinghua and BIT know better.

So why then does a government who spent $42 Billion USD to host the 2008 Olympics for two weeks, refuse to invest one-tenth that amount to ensure that 80% of their own citizens and babies have reliable sources of safe, clean, and afordable drinking water? If you ask the older Chinese folks they smile and say "bu shi dao" (I don't know) but the younger university students sum it up in one word - Corruption.  Indeed over 30% of some $2 Billion USD allocated in the last decade for water reclamation projects have vanished into thin air - and it seems nobody is even asking any questions about it.

So where can you go to drink fresh clean, unpolluted water in China? Only one place that I know of - Tibet.  So the next time you marvel at China's amazing growth and wealth, just remember the cost of it all is going to be the health and lives of their own people. Not a pleasant thought, but one that cannot be ignored. Now put down that glass and go buy yourself a bottle of real water from Tibet and be sure its not a counterfeit bottle!  But we'll leave that topic for yet another article.


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