August 02nd, 2012 | Global Times Disease risk from tainted water
Residents in areas worst-hit by the rainstorms may be at risk of infectious disease from contaminated drinking water, health authorities told the Global Times Wednesday.
Despite ongoing decontamination efforts, which began immediately after the July 21 rainstorm, water from sources such as village wells may not be safe for consumption for some time, said the Beijing Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), although outbreaks of infectious disease have not been reported so far.
In the districts of Fangshan, Fengtai, Tongzhou and Mentougou, residents will continue to run the risk of infectious disease if they drink contaminated water, said a CDC press release Tuesday. Although Shijingshan district was also badly hit, water sources are not at risk there.
The supply for up to 0.9 million people in the four districts may be affected, said the Beijing Morning Post.
“Among the five worst-hit areas, drinking water from wells has been badly affected, and some waterworks were also submerged during the rain,” said a CDC media officer, surnamed Fu, who added that many waterworks have been restored and they are testing the water quality at the sites.
While Fu said that a citywide investigation into the safety of drinking water commenced on the night of July 21, water experts have criticized the response to the crisis.
Zhang Junfeng, founder of Happy Water Journeys, a non-governmental water resource watchdog, told the Global Times that generally, the government responded too slowly in dealing with the disaster this time.
“The government lacks an effective emergency plan to deal with heavy disasters,” he said.
“It’s been over 10 days since the rainstorm. If there were such a plan, the drinking water safety problems should have been resolved, and not still be in the ‘testing’ phase,” said Zhang.
“After the rainstorm, many social volunteers transported bottled water to the affected areas, which is actually a reflection that the government itself did not perform very well in the disaster relief,” he noted.
Some teams did begin checks last week. One sent by the Academy of Military Medical Sciences was testing water in Huangshandian village, Fangshan district on July 26, which has a population of 1,300.
Xue Yujian, media officer of the Fangshan District Health Bureau, said they would not allow villagers to drink well water until it had been tested for possible contaminants.
“During this period, villagers can get bottled water from the district government,” she said.
Drinking water is still being disinfected with chemicals, and she could not predict a date when the disinfection would be complete, Xue said.
But not all villagers are heeding the advice to avoid potential contaminated water, and some say they have not received any information from authorities regarding the safety of the water supply.
Yang Shulan, 78, from Sancha village, Fangshan district, said her family is still drinking water from a village well that is over 300 meters deep.
“The water should be safe because we have drunk it for several days and did not feel any discomfort,” she said.
“My relatives from other districts are worried that we will fall ill after drinking contaminated water, so they sent us a lot of bottled water,” said Yang.
Yang said that until now, they had not received any notice about the dangers of drinking well water or any bottled water from the village government.
But Xue said that water from a 300-meter-deep well is safe and they would only inform the people vulnerable to contaminated water.
Zhou Zijun, a professor with the School of Public Health, Peking University, said that the main symptom of an infectious intestinal disease is diarrhea, and if serious, people could die.
“Disinfection is the only effective way to deal with contaminated water, and people must boil water before drinking it,” he said.
The July 21 rainstorm and its aftermath has claimed 77 lives and caused economic losses of 11.64 billion yuan ($1.8 billion), the press release said.
By Liu Meng