Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink

The tap water hasn’t stopped running in Sichuan Province’s second-largest prefecture-level city, but nobody can drink it after the Mianyang environmental protection bureau on Wednesday warned against unsafe manganese, ammonia and nitrogen pollution afflicting about 1 million residents along the Fujiang River.

The press conference sought to becalm residents after Mianyang government had announced on Tuesday the city’s major water source was contaminated by flood-washed residue from an upstream manganese plant.

Residents stormed supermarkets, stores and shopping malls for bottled water despite government efforts to mobilize fire engines to bring 375 tons of water to communities from Tuesday night through on Wednesday morning.

“The water sent by the government was far from enough,” Jiang Wenjuan, a pharmacist and a mother of a 3-month-old in Mianyang, told the Global Times on Wednesday. “I don’t want to line up for water in such hot weather. So I drove my car to fetch water from the suburbs.”

Her baby had coughed and vomited in the last two days, Jiang said. “The government informed us too late and I think my families drank polluted water.”

There have been no cases of poisoning reported as of on Wednesday, Yuan Chengjun, director of Mianyang Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, said at the conference.

Pollution levels were “going down,” said Mianyang government spokesman Kou Zisheng at the conference.

“From this morning to 3 pm, we’ve sold about 95,000 bottles of water,” Tong Linghuan, a staff member at Walmart in Mianyang, told the Global Times on Wednesday. “We’ve moved all the water to the first floor for people’s convenience.”

Mianyang Parkson supermarket staff had moved their water out onto the square in front of the entrance, manager Bai Bo told the Global Times on Wednesday.

“We began work at 8 am, one and a half hours earlier than our routine work time. People bought water in an orderly fashion,” he said.

Both Tong and Bai said they had kept water prices the same as before and both said they had sufficient water. Photos uploaded online by Web users showed empty shelves in other city stores.

The maximum manganese per liter of the river’s Mianyang section was 1.98 milligrams, the city environmental protection bureau reported. The maximum permitted level is 0.1 milligrams. Ammonia and nitrogen was 3.85 milligrams. China permits one milligram.

Residue from the Xichuan Minjiang Electrolytic Manganese Plant in the county of Songpan, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture washed into the Fujiang River by heavy rain on July 21.

The floodgates of the Wudong Reservoir were closed 1:30 pm that day to stop the pollution reaching downriver, a Mianyang government official told the Xinhua News Agency.

Manganese levels in the Chongqing section of the Fujiang River had not exceeded national surface water quality standards or affected the drinking water of the municipality’s 32 million residents as of on Wednesday morning, according to statistics released by Chongqing environmental bureau.

Xinhua contributed to this story

Global Times

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