Business / Green China

Protect water sources

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-14 07:13

The contamination of drinking water in the city of Lanzhou as a result of a crude oil leak is horrible, but what is even more terrifying are the potential threats this accident revealed to the safety of drinking water in this northwestern provincial capital, and maybe in other cities.

The hazardous chemical benzene in the water works was first discovered on Thursday, but the warning was not given until 18 hours later and neither was the contaminated water source isolated until then. If it was not bureaucracy that caused the delay, it must have been problems with the mechanism in place to timely inform citizens of any danger that their drinking water might pose to their health.

Protect water sources
Pricing for a blue revolution 

Protect water sources
The canal transporting water from the Yellow River to the city's water works was built 60 years ago and should have been renovated a long time ago. And since chemical pipelines from the nearby petrochemical plant cross underneath the canal, work should have been done to prevent the water from being contaminated should the pipes leak.

If the designers and decision-makers had fully taken into consideration the safety of the drinking water, they would not have placed the petrochemical plant so near to the canal. Neither would they have let the oil pipelines be laid underneath the canal.

In 2005, an explosion in a chemical plant in Jilin resulted in benzene contaminating the water in the Songhuajiang River. Then the central government required all chemical plants to identify any safety hazards that existed in their facilities and pipelines. The explosion of an oil pipeline in the city of Qingdao in Nov 22 last year claimed 62 lives and injured 136 people, which prompted the central government to further stress the importance of pipeline safety.

Had the petrochemical plant done what the central government required and identified the hazard, the accident in Lanzhou could have possibly been prevented.

Managing the drinking water for their residents is a test of the governing capability of a city government. Such management involves the specific task of making sure polluting industrial projects are not close to water sources. Good management also requires that the water be tested regularly to make sure that it is safe to drink. There should also be warning mechanisms in place to inform residents of any water contamination in a timely manner.

The Lanzhou government has obviously failed this test.

Other cities should learn the lessons from Lanzhou and make sure they protect their drinking water sources from contamination.

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