Monday, October 26, 2009

Beijing water's not even safe to shower in!

Now if you thought drinking the water in China was scary enough and that breathing the air was akin to smoking a pack of Marlboros [other brands of cigarette are available!], then that may be just the half of it. James Fallows writing in The Atlantic expressed his concerns about the air and how it might affect the health of long-term expats. As one doctor states, "Just using your eyes, you know this can't be good for anybody." There are clear days, and also days when the US Embassy's air monitoring station registers 'good' air quality. But generally the visibility is poor and air quality readings are measured between "Very Unhealthy" and "Hazardous".
Even drinking from bottled water may carry its own risks. Fallows describes his leaving a restaurant to see the restaurateur filling empty Evian bottles with a hose! The writer informs us that he spent several days in hospital on an IV drip of anti-biotics after that culinary tour. The advice is perhaps only to drink the beer or check the seal on bottles of water.
But then there is the water with which you wash and shower. Surely that couldn't pose a problem? Well according to Simon, a CEO of Illuminant Partners, an award-winning PR and strategic communications agency in China and Hong Kong, his wife recently became ill because of the water. And no, she hadn't drunk it. On his Twitter feed @illuminantceo, he state "My wife's been ill all weekend with a high fever and a bacterial infection. Doctor puts it down to Beijing water (showering/washing)!" Scary enough, but seemingly not such an isolated problem it seems.
Within an hour of his post Maggie Rauch, @maggierauch, posted a reply saying that bacteria purifiers exist for shower heads and under-sink use in China. The fact that such thinks existed was seeming confirmation that the problem existed.
Aside of bacterial contamination China's water may also contain heavy metals. In an article published by the China daily in 2005, Officials in Beijing admitted that a third of China's rural population, an estimated 360 million people, lack access to safe drinking water. In addition it was stated that more than 70% of China's rivers and lakes were polluted.
The most arsenic-contaminated regions are in India, Pakistan, and China, where soluble arsenic in ground waters is above the World Health Organization's (WHO) suggested maximum safe level of 10 parts per billion. According to a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences, arsenic in drinking water causes bladder, lung and skin cancer, and may cause kidney and liver cancer. The study also found that arsenic harms the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as heart and blood vessels, and causes serious skin problems. It also may cause birth defects and reproductive problems.
Arsenic is absorbed by diffusion, or osmosis, and although it is more dangerous to ingest it can get into the body through the skin. In fact during the Victorian era, some women used a mixture of vinegar, chalk, and arsenic which was applied topically to whiten their skin. The use of arsenic was intended to prevent aging and creasing of the skin, but some arsenic was inevitably absorbed into the blood stream.
Beijing has insisted that tap water in the city is clean. In 2007 the Beijing municipal water authority said water in the capital had passed all 106 tests for contaminants as required by new national standards and said Beijing had become the first city in China to meet the required safety standards of potable water. "Beijing met the standards at the end of 2006," Yu Yaping, official with the water authority told the China Daily. "As industry insiders, we received the standards a long time ago. We immediately took action to improve the capital's drinking water quality," Yu said. Fan Kangping, director of the water quality center of Beijing Waterworks Group, said the city's water had been potable since 2003.
"The Ministry of Construction, as one of our administrative authorities, issued water quality regulations consisting of 101 standards many years ago," Fan said. Many Beijingers complained however that the water had a metallic taste and an unpleasant smell in the south part of the city. But Yu insisted this was a result of "secondary pollution" and said "Old tap water pipes are responsible for the bad taste."
The claim of clean water issuing from a Beijing tap is unlikely to convince many expats, least of all Simon's wife.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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