Panic arises over water in city

CHENGDU – Residents of Mianyang, a city in Sichuan province, have begun buying bottled water in a panic after authorities there announced on Tuesday that the chief local water source had been contaminated by residue washed away by floodwaters from a local manganese plant.

In response, the local government has formed a plan to send fire trucks carrying 375 tons of water to places in the city that need it.

Despite those plans, residents are continuing to flock to supermarkets, stores and shopping malls in search of bottled water.

Last Thursday, heavy rains washed residue from the Xichuan Minjiang Electrolytic Manganese Plant in Songpan county in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture. That contaminated Mianyang’s primary water source, according to a notice that was posted on the city government’s official website and that has been repeatedly broadcast by local media.

Ye Hongjian, general manager of the Mianyang Water Group, said the Fujiang River is one of the city’s three most important sources of water. It alone supplies about 70 percent of the water drunk by the roughly 300,000 people who live in urban parts of the city.

Customers began buying bottled water in a panic after local television and radio stations had broadcast the city government’s notice on Tuesday afternoon asking residents to avoid drinking tap water.

Crowds soon bought up all of the bottled water that had been on the shelves of Trust-Mart, Wal-Mart, Parkson and other well-known supermarkets. In smaller shops, customers stood in lines for a chance to buy water.

Ji Kenan, a man in his early 40s, spent nearly an hour in a store near his home buying 120 bottles of mineral water for his 81-year-old mother.

“Both my mother, who lives alone, and I dislike bottled water,” he told China Daily. “But we have to make do in times of emergency.”

City residents began to calm down a bit after hearing the local government pledge on television or the radio that it would distribute free drinking water and not cut off the local supply of tap water.

Yu Xiaofeng, an emergency response official, said 50,000 bottles of water had been diverted by Wednesday from neighboring areas to the city.

The local government’s announcement said the tap water in Mianyang should not be drunk but could be used for bathing and washing clothes. It also said that penalties will be meted out to shopkeepers who raise the prices of the bottled water they are selling.

Zeng Daoguang, a migrant worker in Mianyang, had planned to stay in his home village in another city for several days. The government’s notice changed his mind.

Since that information was broadcast, government workers from time to time have taken free water drawn from wells in the city and bottled water collected from other parts of the province and distributed it in residential parts of Mianyang, according to Chen Wen, an information officer with the local government.

Xiao Bing, a judge, saw a water wagon distributing water outside a park at 6 am on Wednesday, when he was taking his morning exercise. “When I returned home to have lunch, I saw several more wagons distributing water,” he said.

Like many residents in the city, Xiao’s wife used the free bottled water to cook a meal for the family.

Aside from the questions over the quality of the tap water, life is proceeding as usual in Mianyang, Xiao said.

On Wednesday morning, the city’s environmental protection bureau reported that for every liter of water they had sampled from the Fujiang River, they had found 1.888 milligrams of manganese. The maximum concentration of that substance allowed by the State is 0.1 milligrams for a liter.

They had likewise found 3.349 milligrams of ammonia and nitrogen for every liter sample they had taken from the water. The maximum concentration of those substances allowed by the State is 0.5 milligrams for a liter.

“The pollutant levels are going down as is evident from Tuesday’s sampling,” the bureau said.

In Songpan, where the mine is, repairs are being made to a dam that was damaged by landslides that occurred after a series of heavy downpours began pounding the region starting on last Thursday.

The accidents also damaged residential roads and houses, forcing 272 people to leave.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

Source: China Daily

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