About 17 percent of drinking water in urban areas fails to meet quality standards when it leaves the factory, an official said on Thursday.
The Jinsha River, the main water source for drinking and productive use in Panzhihua, Sichuan Province, has low water quality to provide urban drinking water. [File photo]
Tap water samples from a majority of urban water plants, which provide 80 percent of the water supply, showed that 83 percent of drinking water meets the newly revised standards that will be applied to all of China on July 1, Shao Yisheng, director of the monitoring center, was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying on Thursday.
Shao cited a survey conducted by an urban water quality monitoring center under the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in 2011.
The new standards, revised by the Ministry of Health in 2006, have increased the number of water quality indicators from 35 to 106, making it closer to international standards. They have already been adopted by some areas but will be applied to all parts of China on July 1.
"The urban water supply is generally safe," he said in response to concerns from the public about drinking water safety.
A report from Century Weekly magazine quoted from Song Lanhe, another official from the monitoring center, as saying that according to a national drinking water quality inspection conducted by the center in 2009, more than 1,000 of more than 4,000 urban water plants failed to meet quality standards.
Some insiders who didn't release their names told the magazine that the rate of tap water quality in urban areas may be as low as 50 percent. The claim has not been confirmed by the government.
Shao admitted that only 58.2 percent of the water tested between 2008 and 2009 by the center in urban areas met quality standards.
"The new standards have boosted the quality of the urban drinking water supply," he said.
But experts doubted the results of the survey and said they were concerned over the implementation of the strict new standards.
"The authority didn't release all of the results of this survey, so the public knows very little about the details. For example, how many indicators have been tested and in which water plants?" said Ma Jun, director of the Institute for Public and Environment Affairs, an NGO.
Many water treatment plants in cities are not ready to implement the new standards because they lack equipment or the personnel needed to test all of the 106 water quality indicators, Ma said.
Many experts suggested that some plants partner with private companies to improve the quality of operations and reduce the financial burden of governments.
"It's a possible solution, but whoever supplies the drinking water — the government or private companies — the key is to protect the water sources and keep tap water plants' operation transparent," Ma said.
Both Shao and Ma agree that China faces challenges in guaranteeing the safety of the urban water supply.