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80 Percent of China's Well Water Not Fit for Drinking, Data Show

FILE - People wear protective masks near the Bund during a polluted day in Shanghai, China, Jan. 19, 2016. Environmentalists have warned that dirty water is a greater problem than dirty air.

More than 80 percent of the water from underground wells in China is not safe for drinking or bathing due to severe water pollution, according to new statistics cited in Chinese media Monday.

The new data showed that 32.9 percent of the 2,103 wells tested received grade 4 for water quality — meaning only fit for industrial use, according to the National Business Daily.

Another 47.3 percent received an even worse grade 5 for water quality.

Farms, factories and households across different regions in China depend on wells as their source of water.

"From my point of view, this shows how water is the biggest environmental issue in China. People in the cities, they see air pollution every day, so it creates huge pressure from the public. But in the cities, people don't see how bad the water pollution is," Dabo Guan, professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain, told the New York Times.

"These latest statistics are an indicator of how bad the underground water quality is. The sources of pollution are widespread and include a lot of agricultures. I think that would be the main source of pollution," Guan said.

Seventy percent of lakes used as a water source, 60 percent of underground water, and 11 percent of water in reservoirs did not meet the country's safety standards, according to statistics from the country's Ministry of Water Resources, and cited by Xia Jun, professor at the Key Laboratory on the Water Cycle and Related Land Surface Processes at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Digging deeper

But other experts said it is important to note that the study measured water sources close to the surface.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the New York Times that many cities get their water from reservoirs that are hundreds or sometimes thousands of feet deeper.

"Fewer and fewer cities are using the heavily polluted shallow-depth underground waters. Most are digging deep wells for drinking. This is a very important distinction that must be made," he said.

The country's Ministry of Water Resources said 2016 would be a year in which China would promote a set of regulations to better manage water exploitation, China National Radio reported.

Zheng Yuhong, an agricultural resources expert who is a member of China's national legislature, said environmental pollution had become “a hot topic in recent years," according to the New York Times.

"But pollution of underground water has virtually been forgotten," Yuhong added.

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    Aline Barros

    Aline Barros is an immigration reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C. Before joining VOA in 2016, Aline worked for the Gazette Newspapers and Channel 21 Montgomery Community Media, both in Montgomery County, Md. She has been published by the Washington Post, G1 Portal Brazilian News, and Fox News Latino. Aline holds a broadcast journalism degree from University of Maryland. Follow her @AlineBarros2.

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