More Than Half of China’s Groundwater is Toxic

April 24, 2014

You’ll often hear deniers say, “Even if we stop polluting here, China’s just going to keep right on.”

No they’re not.


Nearly 60% of China’s underground water is polluted, state media has reported, underscoring the severity of the country’s environmental woes.The country’s land and resources ministry found that among 4,778 testing spots in 203 cities, 44% had “relatively poor” underground water quality; the groundwater in another 15.7% tested as “very poor”.

Water quality improved year-on-year at 647 spots, and worsened in 754 spots, the ministry said.“According to China’s underground water standards, water of relatively poor quality can only be used for drinking after proper treatment. Water of very poor quality cannot be used as source of drinking water,” said an article in the official newswire Xinhua, which reported the figures on Tuesday.

The Chinese government is only now beginning to address the noxious environmental effects of its long-held growth-at-all-costs development model. While authorities have become more transparent about air quality data within the past year, information about water and soil pollution in many places remains relatively well-guarded.Xinhua reported last year that about one-third of China’s water resources are groundwater-based, and that only 3% of the country’s urban groundwater can be classified as “clean”. A land ministry report from last year said that 70% of groundwater in the north China plain – a 400,000 sq km swath of some of the world’s most densely-populated
land – is unfit for human touch.

“The situation is quite serious — groundwater is important source for water use, including drinking water, and if it gets contaminated, it’s very costly and difficult to clean,” said Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

“But still I consider this disclosure a positive move – greater
awareness can help people prevent exposure to health risks, and eventually, motivate society to try and tackle this serious problem.”

Few Chinese urban dwellers consider tap water safe to drink – most either boil their water or buy it bottled. Earlier this month, a chemical spillpoisoned the water supply of Lanzhou – a city of 2 million people in China’s north-west – with the carcinogen benzene, causing a panicked run on bottled drinks.


Daliuta in Shaanxi province sits on top of the world’s biggest underground coal mine, which requires millions of liters of water a day for extracting, washing and processing the fuel. The town is the epicenter of a looming collision between China’s increasingly scarce supplies of water and its plan to power economic growth with coal.

“Water shortages will severely limit thermal power capacity additions,” said Charles Yonts, head of sustainable research at brokerage CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Hong Kong. “You can’t reconcile targets for coal production in, say, Shanxi province and Inner Mongolia with their water targets.”

Coal industries and power stations use as much as 17 percent of China’s water, and almost all of the collieries are in the vast energy basin in the north that is also one of the country’s driest regions. By 2020 the government plans to boost coal-fired power by twice the total generating capacity of India.

About half of China’s rivers have dried up since 1990 and those that remain are mostly contaminated. Without enough water, coal can’t be mined, new power stations can’t run and the economy can’t grow. At least 80 percent of the nation’s coal comes from regions where the United Nations says water supplies are either “stressed” or in “absolute scarcity.”

7 Responses to “More Than Half of China’s Groundwater is Toxic”

  1. […] You'll often hear deniers say, "Even if we stop polluting here, China's just going to keep right on." No they're not. Guardian: Nearly 60% of China’s underground water is polluted, state media has …  […]

  2. rayduray Says:

    The Cruel Japanese excel at the cutting haiku as well as sashimi. Here’s an homage to the above entry in haiku form.

    China is a dump.
    Yet not quite entirely a rump.
    Conquest still lies ahead.

    Did I mention Barack Obama’s recent conspiring with the fanatical fascist PM Abe of the Japanese revivalist evangelical Co-Prosperity Sphere?

    OK, here’s the sashimi references:




  3. redskylite Says:

    It is a great shame China took the great leap from agrarian to industrialised, without thought of the cost to it’s people, lands or airs. It is now big business for the bottled water exporters like Evian of France, makers of water and air filters, but I wonder how the poorer folk manage and where the engineering of basic needs (air and water) will end.

  4. […] 2014/04/24: PSinclair: More Than Half of China’s Groundwater is Toxic […]

  5. […] 2014/04/24: PSinclair: More Than Half of China’s Groundwater is Toxic […]

  6. dumboldguy Says:

    Ignoring Ray’s never-ending need to go off on a tangent (“fanatical fascist revivalist evangelical coprosperity sphere”? WOW!), and the Poet’s counting (I get 5-8-6), here’s more off topic fun.

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