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2020-07-31 10:45:03

Around 1,600 villagers living on the outskirts of the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou have been using tap water contaminated by a nearby waste treatment plant.

In a statement Thursday, city authorities said wastewater from a composting facility had entered the water system of Hubu Village.

“I noticed an unusual odor coming from the tap water a few days ago,” a villager surnamed Yao told Sixth Tone, adding that many of his neighbors had been experiencing diarrhea, rashes, and dizziness over the past few weeks.

I noticed an unusual odor coming from the tap water a few days ago.

Authorities in Hangzhou’s Xihu District, which governs Hubu Village, said that “inappropriate handling of equipment” by staff at a nearby composting plant may have led to the incident.

“We’ve shut down the plant and cut off its water pipe network from the rest of the municipal water supply system,” the statement said.

A Hubu resident surnamed Feng, who owns a restaurant, told Sixth Tone that the village’s tap water system could have been polluted since May, when residents began complaining about a suspicious stench.

“Before the investigation (result) came out, a lot of villagers were discussing in our chat group why we had frequent diarrhea. We thought it was because of the scorching-hot weather,” Feng said. “How could we possibly have expected the water supply might be the cause? It’s just beyond our imagination.”

Local authorities have assembled an “expert team” to further investigate the case, Wei Jun, an official with the Xihu District government, told Sixth Tone.

“We don’t know exactly what happened yet,” she said.

Left: Workers clear food scraps at the waste processing center in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province; right: A view of a polluted stream in Hubu Village, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, July 2020. From @红星新闻 on Weibo

Left: Workers clear food scraps at the waste processing center in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province; right: A view of a polluted stream in Hubu Village, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, July 2020. From @红星新闻 on Weibo

The plight of the villagers came into the public spotlight after one resident on Thursday shared a now-deleted post on microblogging platform Weibo, including photos of a skin rash and screenshots of several villagers’ medical reports. The post sparked a public outcry over the supervision of local infrastructure.

Hangzhou Water, the state-run company in charge of the city’s water supply, said Thursday that it had received reports from villagers about smelly tap water over the weekend. After taking clean-up measures, the company said Thursday that “water in the pipe network had passed the quality test” earlier in the week.

However, several villagers told Sixth Tone that they are still drinking bottled water distributed by the government for fear of any residual pollutants, when normally they would drink the tap water after boiling it.

The tap water is safe now, but if the villagers are concerned, they can drink the bottled water instead.

Wei, the official, said the district government has been supplying jugs of drinking water to the residents of Hubu Village. “The tap water is safe now, but if the villagers are concerned, they can drink the bottled water instead,” she said.

And Yu Lu, a Hangzhou Water employee, told Sixth Tone the company has dispatched “several water trucks” to serve the Hubu residents.

“Villagers can come pick up water where our trucks are parked,” she said. “The government has assembled a team to further investigate the issue, and we are working out a plan to clean the water pipes.”

Hangzhou Water said it will continue monitoring water quality and increase the frequency of quality assessments “to ensure the safety and stability of the water supply.”

Meanwhile, local business owners have seen their daily earnings plunge this week, and fear that the pollution publicity may stigmatize the village for weeks or months to come.

“Several waves of patrons from nearby villages are cancelling their reservations,” Feng said. “No customers have come to my restaurant today. It used to be packed.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Xinhua)