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Experts hired to prove local water safe

By Chen Tian (Global Times)

09:06, March 19, 2013

Hunan Province's Pingjiang county government has hired a group of environmental science experts to examine the quality of the region's tap water, hoping to refute claims by local residents who refuse to drink the water claiming it has been contaminated by a mine, an official told the Global Times on Monday.

The official said the government regularly tests the water. "The tap water is absolutely safe and clean," said the official surnamed Huang, who is the director of the media center at the Pingjiang county government.

A recent report by Xiaoxiang Morning Post, a Hunan daily newspaper, said that 20,000 residents in Changshou have not consumed tap water for years, because they were told that it was heavily polluted. Less than a month after the story was published, the People's Daily reported that residents have been buying mountain spring water, which was believed to be cleaner, ignoring the government's assertion that tap water was safe.

Huang said the experts are from the government's environmental protection and disease control departments.

"We will release a written statement as soon as test results are out," Huang said. "We are eager to dispel the rumors."

Local residents told the People's Daily that tap water was polluted by a gold mine on the Miluo River, the source of the county's drinking water.

Zhu Xiangcheng, head of the Changshou water treatment plant, which serves 30,000 residents in the area, told the Global Times that it switched from processing river water to purifying groundwater seven years ago.

"The quality of the groundwater, which is 32 meters underground, was approved by various governmental agencies, including the local epidemic prevention station and the center for disease control," he said.

Zhu said the local epidemic prevention station examines the water once every three months and his plant checks it every hour.

"And I think they are drinking mountain spring water just because it's a tradition, not because the tap water is polluted," he said.

Huang Jinhui, associate professor at the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Hunan University, told the Global Times that residents also have to be careful when using mountain spring water.

"Although it comes from the mountains and is natural, it could also be unsafe and should be tested by the environmental agencies," Huang Jinhui said.

The fact that Changshou residents don't believe officials' previous clarifications should encourage the government to be more open about disclosing its test data, she said.

"The local environmental protection bureau needs to set up an online system, which routinely posts water and air pollution data," Huang Jinhui said.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that to convince the residents, the local government could authorize trustworthy third-party companies to examine the water.

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