Chinese officials have said that most of the water in Lanzhou is now safe to drink. Bottled water on the region has sold out from the water contamination scare following a crude oil spill. Water to 2.4 million people was poisoned by the spill.
Lanzhou city authorities found 200 micrograms of benzene per liter of water on Friday – The national safety standard is 10 micrograms. Xinhua news agency said benzene levels were confirmed safe by late Saturday morning, clearing the water safety at five out of the six water monitoring sites. Residents are still wary of drinking the previously contaminated water, and for the time being most are relying entirely on bottled water.
The crude oil that has leaked into water supplies is owned by China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC). “The channel has been carrying water to Veolia Water’s No.1 and No.2 plants for decades. Under this ditch lies Lanzhou Petrochemical’s oil pipeline,” the city’s environmental protection chief Yan told Xinhua, indicating that CNPC is the one to blame for this water emergency. The news agency also reported that the leak has been found and repairs are in process. Full recovery is expected to be made soon.
Levels of benzene in the city’s water rose 20 percent over safety limits. After the discovery, officials promptly told citizens not to drink tap water for a full day. Benzene is known to be a cancer-inducing chemical. This latest scare has added to the environmental skepticism China is often faced with. Pollution and water safety have been major challenges for the 1.351 billion inhabitants.
Lanzhou is home to 3.6 million people and it’s one of China’s most polluted areas. Growing concerns over pollution levels recently saw a jar of air auctioned off for $860 usd. The Beijing artist, Liang Kegang, made his point after visiting southern france and bringing the jar of fresh air with him back to China. “Air should be the most valueless commodity, free to breathe for any vagrant or beggar. This is my way to question China’s foul air and express my dissatisfaction” said Liang in an interview.
Lanzhou is heavily industrialized and CNPC is landlocked in the city’s northwest region. With a refining capacity of 280,000 barrels per day (bpd) the company plans to process 195,000 bpd of crude this year. The company couldn’t be reached for comment on the benzene water alert.